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Myth, Ritual, and Religion, Vol. 1 by Andrew Lang

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Most of those myths in which everything in Nature becomes personal
and human, while all persons may become anything in Nature, we
explain, then, as survivals or imitations of tales conceived when
men were in the savage intellectual condition. In that stage, as
we demonstrated, no line is drawn between things animate and
inanimate, dumb or "articulate speaking," organic or inorganic,
personal or impersonal. Such a mental stage, again, is reflected
in the nature-myths, many of which are merely "aetiological,"--
assign a cause, that is, for phenomena, and satisfy an indolent and
credulous curiosity.

We may be asked again, "But how did this intellectual condition
come to exist?" To answer that is no part of our business; for us
it is enough to trace myth, or a certain element in myth, to a
demonstrable and actual stage of thought. But this stage, which
is constantly found to survive in the minds of children, is thus
explained or described by Hume in his Essay on Natural Religion:
"There is an universal tendency in mankind to conceive all
beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those
qualities . . . of which they are intimately conscious".[1] Now
they believe themselves to be conscious of magical and supernatural
powers, which they do not, of course, possess. These powers of
effecting metamorphosis, of "shape-shifting," of flying, of becoming
invisible at will, of conversing with the dead, of miraculously
healing the sick, savages pass on to their gods (as will be shown
in a later chapter), and the gods of myth survive and retain the
miraculous gifts after their worshippers (become more reasonable)
have quite forgotten that they themselves once claimed similar
endowments. So far, then, it has been shown that savage fancy,
wherever studied, is wild; that savage curiosity is keen; that
savage credulity is practically boundless. These considerations
explain the existence of savage myths of sun, stars, beasts, plants
and stones; similar myths fill Greek legend and the Sanskrit
Brahmanes. We conclude that, in Greek and Sanskrit, the myths are
relics (whether borrowed or inherited) of the savage mental STATUS.

[1] See Appendix B.



Confusions of myth--Various origins of man and of things--Myths of
Australia, Andaman Islands, Bushmen, Ovaherero, Namaquas, Zulus,
Hurons, Iroquois, Diggers, Navajoes, Winnebagoes, Chaldaeans,
Thlinkeets, Pacific Islanders, Maoris, Aztecs, Peruvians--
Similarity of ideas pervading all those peoples in various
conditions of society and culture.

The difficulties of classification which beset the study of
mythology have already been described. Nowhere are they more
perplexing than when we try to classify what may be styled
Cosmogonic Myths. The very word cosmogonic implies the pre-
existence of the idea of a cosmos, an orderly universe, and this
was exactly the last idea that could enter the mind of the myth-
makers. There is no such thing as orderliness in their mythical
conceptions, and no such thing as an universe. The natural
question, "Who made the world, or how did the things in the world
come to be?" is the question which is answered by cosmogonic myths.
But it is answered piecemeal. To a Christian child the reply is
given, "God made all things". We have known this reply discussed
by some little girls of six (a Scotch minister's daughters, and
naturally metaphysical), one of whom solved all difficulties by the
impromptu myth, "God first made a little place to stand on, and
then he made the rest". But savages and the myth-makers, whose
stories survive into the civilised religions, could adhere firmly
to no such account as this. Here occurs in the first edition of
this book the following passage: "They (savages) have not, and had
not, the conception of God as we understand what we mean by the
word. They have, and had at most, only the small-change of the
idea "God,"--here the belief in a moral being who watches conduct;
here again the hypothesis of a pre-human race of magnified, non-
natural medicine-men, or of extra-natural beings with human and
magical attributes, but often wearing the fur, and fins, and
feathers of the lower animals. Mingled with these faiths (whether
earlier, later, or coeval in origin with these) are the dread and
love of ancestral ghosts, often transmuting themselves into worship
of an imaginary and ideal first parent of the tribe, who once more
is often a beast or a bird. Here is nothing like the notion of an
omnipotent, invisible, spiritual being, the creator of our
religion; here is only la monnaie of the conception."

It ought to have occurred to the author that he was here traversing
the main theory of his own book, which is that RELIGION is one
thing, myth quite another thing. That many low races of savages
entertain, in hours of RELIGIOUS thought, an elevated conception of
a moral and undying Maker of Things, and Master of Life, a Father
in Heaven, has already been stated, and knowledge of the facts has
been considerably increased since this work first appeared (1887).
But the MYTHICAL conceptions described in the last paragraph
coexist with the religious conception in the faiths of very low
savages, such as the Australians and Andamanese, just as the same
contradictory coexistence is notorious in ancient Greece, India,
Egypt and Anahuac. In a sense, certain low savages HAVE the
"conception of God, as we understand what we mean by the word".
But that sense, when savages come to spinning fables about origins,
is apt to be overlaid and perplexed by the frivolity of their
mythical fancy.

With such shifting, grotesque and inadequate fables, the cosmogonic
myths of the world are necessarily bewildered and perplexed. We
have already seen in the chapter on "Nature Myths" that many
things, sun, moon, the stars, "that have another birth," and
various animals and plants, are accounted for on the hypothesis
that they are later than the appearance of man--that they
originally WERE men. To the European mind it seems natural to rank
myths of the gods before myths of the making or the evolution of
the world, because our religion, like that of the more philosophic
Greeks, makes the deity the fount of all existences, causa causans,
"what unmoved moves," the beginning and the end. But the myth-
makers, deserting any such ideas they may possess, find it
necessary, like the child of whom we spoke, to postulate a PLACE
for the divine energy to work from, and that place is the earth or
the heavens. Then, again, heaven and earth are themselves often
regarded in the usual mythical way, as animated, as persons with
parts and passions, and finally, among advancing races, as gods.
Into this medley of incongruous and inconsistent conceptions we
must introduce what order we may, always remembering that the order
is not native to the subject, but is brought in for the purpose of

The origin of the world and of man is naturally a problem which has
excited the curiosity of the least developed minds. Every savage
race has its own myths on this subject, most of them bearing the
marks of the childish and crude imagination, whose character we
have investigated, and all varying in amount of what may be called
philosophical thought.

All the cosmogonic myths, as distinct from religious belief in a
Creator, waver between the theory of construction, or rather of
reconstruction, and the theory of evolution, very rudely conceived.
The earth, as a rule, is mythically averred to have grown out of
some original matter, perhaps an animal, perhaps an egg which
floated on the waters, perhaps a handful of mud from below the
waters. But this conception does not exclude the idea that many of
the things in the world, minerals, plants and what not, are
fragments of the frame of a semi-supernatural and gigantic being,
human or bestial, belonging to a race which preceded the advent of
man.[1] Such were the Titans, demi-gods, Nurrumbunguttias in
Australia. Various members of this race are found active in myths
of the creation, or rather the construction, of man and of the
world. Among the lowest races it is to be noted that mythical
animals of supernatural power often take the place of beings like
the Finnish Wainamoinen, the Greek Prometheus, the Zulu
Unkulunkulu, the Red Indian Manabozho, himself usually a great

[1] Macrobius, Saturnal., i. xx.

The ages before the development or creation of man are filled up,
in the myths, with the loves and wars of supernatural people. The
appearance of man is explained in three or four contradictory ways,
each of which is represented in the various myths of most
mythologies. Often man is fashioned out of clay, or stone, or
other materials, by a Maker of all things, sometimes half-human or
bestial, but also half-divine. Sometimes the first man rises out
of the earth, and is himself confused with the Creator, a theory
perhaps illustrated by the Zulu myth of Unkulunkulu, "The Old, Old
One". Sometimes man arrives ready made, with most of the animals,
from his former home in a hole in the ground, and he furnishes the
world for himself with stars, sun, moon and everything else he
needs. Again, there are many myths which declare that man was
evolved out of one or other of the lower animals. This myth is
usually employed by tribesmen to explain the origin of their own
peculiar stock of kindred. Once more, man is taken to be the fruit
of some tree or plant, or not to have emerged ready-made, but to
have grown out of the ground like a plant or a tree. In some
countries, as among the Bechuanas, the Boeotians, and the
Peruvians, the spot where men first came out on earth is known to
be some neighbouring marsh or cave. Lastly, man is occasionally
represented as having been framed out of a piece of the body of the
Creator, or made by some demiurgic potter out of clay. All these
legends are told by savages, with no sense of their inconsistency.
There is no single orthodoxy on the matter, and we shall see that
all these theories coexist pell-mell among the mythological
traditions of civilised races. In almost every mythology, too, the
whole theory of the origin of man is crossed by the tradition of a
Deluge, or some other great destruction, followed by revival or
reconstruction of the species, a tale by no means necessarily of
Biblical origin.

In examining savage myths of the origin of man and of the world, we
shall begin by considering those current among the most backward
peoples, where no hereditary or endowed priesthood has elaborated
and improved the popular beliefs. The natives of Australia furnish
us with myths of a purely popular type, the property, not of
professional priests and poets, but of all the old men and full-
grown warriors of the country. Here, as everywhere else, the
student must be on his guard against accepting myths which are
disguised forms of missionary teaching.[1]

[1] Taplin, The Narrinyeri. "He must also beware of supposing that
the Australians believe in a creator in our sense, because the
Narrinyeri, for example, say that Nurundere 'made everything'.
Nurundere is but an idealised wizard and hunter, with a rival of
his species." This occurs in the first edition, but "making all
things" is one idea, wizardry is another.

In Southern Australia we learn that the Boonoorong, an Australian
coast tribe, ascribe the creation of things to a being named Bun-
jel or Pund-jel. He figures as the chief of an earlier
supernatural class of existence, with human relationships; thus he
"has a wife, WHOSE FACE HE HAS NEVER SEEN," brothers, a son, and so
on. Now this name Bun-jel means "eagle-hawk," and the eagle-hawk
is a totem among certain stocks. Thus, when we hear that Eagle-
hawk is the maker of men and things we are reminded of the Bushman
creator, Cagn, who now receives prayers of considerable beauty and
pathos, but who is (in some theories) identified with kaggen, the
mantis insect, a creative grasshopper, and the chief figure in
Bushman mythology.[1] Bun-jel or Pund-jel also figures in
Australian belief, neither as the creator nor as the eagle-hawk,
but "as an old man who lives at the sources of the Yarra river,
where he possesses great multitudes of cattle".[2] The term Bun-
jel is also used, much like our "Mr.," to denote the older men of
the Kurnai and Briakolung, some of whom have magical powers. One
of them, Krawra, or "West Wind," can cause the wind to blow so
violently as to prevent the natives from climbing trees; this man
has semi-divine attributes. From these facts it appears that this
Australian creator, in myth, partakes of the character of the totem
or worshipful beast, and of that of the wizard or medicine-man. He
carried a large knife, and, when he made the earth, he went up and
down slicing it into creeks and valleys. The aborigines of the
northern parts of Victoria seem to believe in Pund-jel in what may
perhaps be his most primitive mythical shape, that of an eagle.[3]
This eagle and a crow created everything, and separated the Murray
blacks into their two main divisions, which derive their names from
the crow and the eagle. The Melbourne blacks seem to make Pund-jel
more anthropomorphic. Men are his [Greek text omitted] figures
kneaded of clay, as Aristophanes says in the Birds. Pund-jel made
two clay images of men, and danced round them. "He made their
hair--one had straight, one curly hair--of bark. He danced round
them. He lay on them, and breathed his breath into their mouths,
noses and navels, and danced round them. Then they arose full-
grown young men." Some blacks seeing a brickmaker at work on a
bridge over the Yarra exclaimed, "Like 'em that Pund-jel make 'em
Koolin". But other blacks prefer to believe that, as Pindar puts
the Phrygian legend, the sun saw men growing like trees.

[1] Bleek, Brief Account of Bushman Mythology, p. 6; Cape Monthly
Magazine, July, 1874, pp. 1-13; Kamilaroi and Kurnai, pp. 210, 324.

[2] Kamilaroi and Kurnai, p. 210.

[3] Brough Smyth, Natives of Victoria, vol. i. p. 423.

The first man was formed out of the gum of a wattle-tree, and came
out of the knot of a wattle-tree. He then entered into a young
woman (though he was the first man) and was born.[1] The Encounter
Bay people have another myth, which might have been attributed by
Dean Swift to the Yahoos, so foul an origin does it allot to

[1] Meyer, Aborigines of Encounter Bay. See, later, "Gods of the
Lowest Races".

Australian myths of creation are by no means exclusive of a
hypothesis of evolution. Thus the Dieyrie, whose notions Mr. Gason
has recorded, hold a very mixed view. They aver that "the good
spirit" Moora-Moora made a number of small black lizards, liked
them, and promised them dominion. He divided their feet into toes
and fingers, gave them noses and lips, and set them upright. Down
they fell, and Moora-Moora cut off their tails. Then they walked
erect and were men.[1] The conclusion of the adventures of one
Australian creator is melancholy. He has ceased to dwell among
mortals whom he watches and inspires. The Jay possessed many bags
full of wind; he opened them, and Pund-jel was carried up by the
blast into the heavens. But this event did not occur before Pund-
jel had taught men and women the essential arts of life. He had
shown the former how to spear kangaroos, he still exists and
inspires poets. From the cosmogonic myths of Australia (the
character of some of which is in contradiction with the higher
religious belief of the people to be later described) we may turn,
without reaching a race of much higher civilisation, to the
dwellers in the Andaman Islands and their opinions about the origin
of things.

[1] Gason's Dieyries, ap. Native Tribes of South Australia, p. 20.

The Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal, are remote from any
shores, and are protected from foreign influences by dangerous
coral reefs, and by the reputed ferocity and cannibalism of the
natives. These are Negritos, and are commonly spoken of as most
abject savages. They are not, however, without distinctions of
rank; they are clean, modest, moral after marriage, and most strict
in the observance of prohibited degrees. Unlike the Australians,
they use bows and arrows, but are said to be incapable of striking
a light, and, at all events, find the process so difficult that,
like the Australians and the farmer in the Odyssey,[1] they are
compelled "to hoard the seeds of fire". Their mythology contains
explanations of the origin of men and animals, and of their own
customs and language.

[1] Odyssey, v. 490.

The Andamanese, long spoken of as "godless," owe much to Mr. Man,
an English official, who has made a most careful study of their
beliefs.[1] So extraordinary is the contradiction between the
relative purity and morality of the RELIGION and the savagery of
the myths of the Andamanese, that, in the first edition of this
work, I insisted that the "spiritual god" of the faith must have
been "borrowed from the same quarter as the stone house" in which
he is mythically said to live. But later and wider study, and
fresh information from various quarters, have convinced me that the
relative purity of Andamanese religion, with its ethical sanction
of conduct, may well be, and probably is, a natural unborrowed
development. It is easy for MYTH to borrow the notion of a stone
house from our recent settlement at Port Blair. But it would not
be easy for RELIGION to borrow many new ideas from an alien creed,
in a very few years, while the noted ferocity of the islanders
towards strangers, and the inaccessibility of their abode, makes
earlier borrowing, on a large scale at least, highly improbable.
The Andamanese god, Puluga, is "like fire" but invisible, unborn
and immortal, knowing and punishing or rewarding, men's deeds, even
"the thoughts of their hearts". But when once mythical fancy plays
round him, and stories are told about him, he is credited with a
wife who is an eel or a shrimp, just as Zeus made love as an ant or
a cuckoo. Puluga was the maker of men; no particular myth as to
how he made them is given. They tried to kill him, after the
deluge (of which a grotesque myth is told), but he replied that he
was "as hard as wood". His legend is in the usual mythical
contradiction with the higher elements in his religion.

[1] Journ. Anthrop. Soc., vol. xii. p. 157 et seq.

Leaving the Andaman islanders, but still studying races in the
lowest degree of civilisation, we come to the Bushmen of South
Africa. This very curious and interesting people, far inferior in
material equipment to the Hottentots, is sometimes regarded as a
branch of that race.[1] The Hottentots call themselves "Khoi-
khoi," the Bushmen they style "Sa". The poor Sa lead the life of
pariahs, and are hated and chased by all other natives of South
Africa. They are hunters and diggers for roots, while the
Hottentots, perhaps their kinsmen, are cattle-breeders.[2] Being
so ill-nourished, the Bushmen are very small, but sturdy. They
dwell in, or rather wander through, countries which have been
touched by some ancient civilisation, as is proved by the
mysterious mines and roads of Mashonaland. It is singular that the
Bushmen possess a tradition according to which they could once
"make stone things that flew over rivers". They have remarkable
artistic powers, and their drawings of men and animals on the walls
of caves are often not inferior to the designs on early Greek

[1] See "Divine Myths of the Lower Races".

[2] Hahu, Tsuni Goam, p. 4. See other accounts in Waitz,
Anthropologie, ii. 328.

[3] Custom and Myth, where illustrations of Bushman art are given,
pp. 290-295.

Thus we must regard the Bushmen as possibly degenerated from a
higher status, though there is nothing (except perhaps the
tradition about bridge-making) to show that it was more exalted
than that of their more prosperous neighbours, the Hottentots. The
myths of the Bushmen, however, are almost on the lowest known
level. A very good and authentic example of Bushman cosmogonic
myth was given to Mr. Orpen, chief magistrate of St. John's
territory, by Qing, King Nqusha's huntsman. Qing "had never seen a
white man, but in fighting," till he became acquainted with Mr.
Orpen.[1] The chief force in Bushmen myth is by Dr. Bleek
identified with the mantis, a sort of large grasshopper. Though he
seems at least as "chimerical a beast" as the Aryan creative boar,
the "mighty big hare" of the Algonkins, the large spider who made
the world in the opinion of the Gold Coast people, or the eagle of
the Australians, yet the insect (if insect he be), like the others,
has achieved moral qualities and is addressed in prayer. In his
religious aspect he is nothing less than a grasshopper. He is
called Cagn. "Cagn made all things and we pray to him," said Qing.
"Coti is the wife of Cagn." Qing did not know where they came
from; "perhaps with the men who brought the sun". The fact is,
Qing "did not dance that dance," that is, was not one of the
Bushmen initiated into the more esoteric mysteries of Cagn. Till
we, too, are initiated, we can know very little of Cagn in his
religious aspect. Among the Bushmen, as among the Greeks, there is
"no religious mystery without dancing". Qing was not very
consistent. He said Cagn gave orders and caused all things to
appear and to be made, sun, moon, stars, wind, mountains, animals,
and this, of course, is a lofty theory of creation. Elsewhere myth
avers that Cagn did not so much create as manufacture the objects
in nature. In his early day "the snakes were also men". Cagn
struck snakes with his staff and turned them into men, as Zeus, in
the Aeginetan myth, did with ants. He also turned offending men
into baboons. In Bushman myth, little as we really know of it, we
see the usual opposition of fable and faith, a kind creator in
religion is apparently a magician in myth.

[1] Cape Monthly Magazine, July, 1874.

Neighbours of the Bushmen, but more fortunate in their wealth of
sheep and cattle, are the Ovaherero. The myths of the Ovaherero, a
tribe dwelling in a part of Hereraland "which had not yet been
under the influence of civilisation and Christianity," have been
studied by the Rev. H. Reiderbecke, missionary at Otyozondyupa.
The Ovaherero, he says, have a kind of tree Ygdrasil, a tree out of
which men are born, and this plays a great part in their myth of
creation. The tree, which still exists, though at a great age, is
called the Omumborombonga tree. Out of it came, in the beginning,
the first man and woman. Oxen stepped forth from it too, but
baboons, as Caliban says of the stars, "came otherwise," and sheep
and goats sprang from a flat rock. Black people are so coloured,
according to the Ovaherero, because when the first parents emerged
from the tree and slew an ox, the ancestress of the blacks
appropriated the black liver of the victim. The Ovakuru Meyuru or
"OLD ONES in heaven," once let the skies down with a run, but drew
them up again (as the gods of the Satapatha Brahmana drew the sun)
when most of mankind had been drowned.[1] The remnant pacified the
OLD ONES (as Odysseus did the spirits of the dead) by the sacrifice
of a BLACK ewe, a practice still used to appease ghosts by the
Ovaherero. The neighbouring Omnambo ascribe the creation of man to
Kalunga, who came out of the earth, and made the first three

[1] An example of a Deluge myth in Africa, where M. Lenormant found

[2] South African Folk-Lore Journal, ii. pt. v. p. 95.

Among the Namaquas, an African people on the same level of nomadic
culture as the Ovaherero, a divine or heroic early being called
Heitsi Eibib had a good deal to do with the origin of things. If
he did not exactly make the animals, he impressed on them their
characters, and their habits (like those of the serpent in Genesis)
are said to have been conferred by a curse, the curse of Heitsi
Eibib. A precisely similar notion was found by Avila among the
Indians of Huarochiri, whose divine culture-hero imposed, by a
curse or a blessing, their character and habits on the beasts.[1]
The lion used to live in a nest up a tree till Heitsi Eibib cursed
him and bade him walk on the ground. He also cursed the hare, "and
the hare ran away, and is still running".[2] The name of the first
man is given as Eichaknanabiseb (with a multitude of "clicks"), and
he is said to have met all the animals on a flat rock, and played a
game with them for copper beads. The rainbow was made by Gaunab,
who is generally a malevolent being, of whom more hereafter.

[1] Fables of Yncas (Hakluyt Society), p. 127.

[2] Tsuni Goam, pp. 66, 67.

Leaving these African races, which, whatever their relative degrees
of culture, are physically somewhat contemptible, we reach their
northern neighbours, the Zulus. They are among the finest, and
certainly among the least religious, of the undeveloped peoples.
Their faith is mainly in magic and ghosts, but there are traces of
a fading and loftier belief.

The social and political condition of the Zulu is well understood.
They are a pastoral, but not a nomadic people, possessing large
kraals or towns. They practise agriculture, and they had, till
quite recently, a centralised government and a large army, somewhat
on the German system. They appear to have no regular class of
priests, and supernatural power is owned by the chiefs and the
king, and by diviners and sorcerers, who conduct the sacrifices.
Their myths are the more interesting because, whether from their
natural scepticism, which confuted Bishop Colenso in his orthodox
days, or from acquaintance with European ideas, they have begun to
doubt the truth of their own traditions.[1] The Zulu theory of the
origin of man and of the world commences with the feats of
Unkulunkulu, "the old, old one," who, in some legends, was the
first man, "and broke off in the beginning". Like Manabozho among
the Indians of North America, and like Wainamoinen among the Finns,
Unkulunkulu imparted to men a knowledge of the arts, of marriage,
and so forth. His exploits in this direction, however, must be
considered in another part of this work. Men in general "came out
of a bed of reeds".[2] But there is much confusion about this bed
of reeds, named "Uthlanga". The younger people ask where the bed
of reeds was; the old men do not know, and neither did their
fathers know. But they stick to it that "that bed of reeds still
exists". Educated Zulus appear somewhat inclined to take the
expression in an allegorical sense, and to understand the reeds
either as a kind of protoplasm or as a creator who was mortal. "He
exists no longer. As my grandfather no longer exists, he too no
longer exists; he died." Chiefs who wish to claim high descent
trace their pedigree to Uthlanga, as the Homeric kings traced
theirs to Zeus. The myths given by Dr. Callaway are very

[1] These legends have been carefully collected and published by
Bishop Callaway (Trubner & Co., 1868).

[2] Callaway, p. 9.

In addition to the legend that men came out of a bed of reeds,
other and perhaps even more puerile stories are current. "Some men
say that they were belched up by a cow;" others "that Unkulunkulu
split them out of a stone,"[1] which recalls the legend of Pyrrha
and Deucalion. The myth about the cow is still applied to great
chiefs. "He was not born; he was belched up by a cow." The myth
of the stone origin corresponds to the Homeric saying about men
"born from the stone or the oak of the old tale".[2]

[1] Without anticipating a later chapter, the resemblances of these
to Greek myths, as arrayed by M. Bouche Leclercq (De Origine
Generis Humani), is very striking.

[2] Odyssey, xix. 103.

In addition to the theory of the natal bed of reeds, the Zulus,
like the Navajoes of New Mexico, and the Bushmen, believe in the
subterranean origin of man. There was a succession of emigrations
from below of different tribes of men, each having its own
Unkulunkulu. All accounts agree that Unkulunkulu is not
worshipped, and he does not seem to be identified with "the lord
who plays in heaven"--a kind of fading Zeus--when there is thunder.
Unkulunkulu is not worshipped, though ancestral spirits are
worshipped, because he lived so long ago that no one can now trace
his pedigree to the being who is at once the first man and the
creator. His "honour-giving name is lost in the lapse of years,
and the family rites have become obsolete."[1]

[1] See Zulu religion in The Making of Religion, pp. 225-229, where
it is argued that ghost worship has superseded a higher faith, of
which traces are discernible.

The native races of the North American continent (concerning whose
civilisation more will be said in the account of their divine
myths) occupy every stage of culture, from the truly bestial
condition in which some of the Digger Indians at present exist,
living on insects and unacquainted even with the use of the bow, to
the civilisation which the Spaniards destroyed among the Aztecs.

The original facts about religion in America are much disputed, and
will be more appropriately treated later. It is now very usual for
anthropologists to say, like Mr. Dorman, "no approach to
monotheismn had been made before the discovery of America by
Europeans, and the Great Spirit mentioned in these (their) books is
an introduction by Christianity".[1] "This view will not bear
examination," says Mr. Tylor, and we shall later demonstrate the
accuracy of his remark.[2] But at present we are concerned, not
with what Indian religion had to say about her Gods, but with what
Indian myth had to tell about the beginnings of things.

[1] Origin of Primitive Superstitions, p. 15.

[2] Primitive Culture, 1873, ii. p. 340.

The Hurons, for example (to choose a people in a state of middle
barbarism), start in myth from the usual conception of a powerful
non-natural race of men dwelling in the heavens, whence they
descended, and colonised, not to say constructed, the earth. In
the Relation de la Nouvelle France, written by Pere Paul le Jeune,
of the Company of Jesus, in 1636, there is a very full account of
Huron opinion, which, with some changes of names, exists among the
other branches of the Algonkin family of Indians.

They recognise as the founder of their kindred a woman named
Ataentsic, who, like Hephaestus in the Iliad, was banished from the
sky. In the upper world there are woods and plains, as on earth.
Ataentsic fell down a hole when she was hunting a bear, or she cut
down a heaven-tree, and fell with the fall of this Huron Ygdrasil,
or she was seduced by an adventurer from the under world, and was
tossed out of heaven for her fault. However it chanced, she
dropped on the back of the turtle in the midst of the waters. He
consulted the other aquatic animals, and one of them, generally
said to have been the musk-rat, fished[1] up some soil and
fashioned the earth.[2] Here Ataentsic gave birth to twins,
Ioskeha and Tawiscara. These represent the usual dualism of myth;
they answer to Osiris and Set, to Ormuzd and Ahriman, and were
bitter enemies. According to one form of the myth, the woman of
the sky had twins, and what occurred may be quoted from Dr.
Brinton. "Even before birth one of them betrayed his restless and
evil nature by refusing to be born in the usual manner, but
insisting on breaking through his parent's side or arm-pit. He did
so, but it cost his mother her life. Her body was buried, and from
it sprang the various vegetable productions," pumpkins, maize,
beans, and so forth.[3]

[1] Relations, 1633. In this myth one Messon, the Great Hare, is
the beginner of our race. He married a daughter of the Musk-rat.

[2] Here we first meet in this investigation a very widely
distributed myth. The myths already examined have taken the origin
of earth for granted. The Hurons account for its origin; a speck
of earth was fished out of the waters and grew. In M. H. de
Charencey's tract Une Legende Cosmogonique (Havre, 1884) this
legend is traced. M. de Charencey distinguishes (1) a continental
version; (2) an insular version; (3) a mixed and Hindoo version.
Among continental variants he gives a Vogul version (Revue de
Philologie et d'Ethnographie, Paris, 1874, i. 10). Numi Tarom (a
god who cooks fish in heaven) hangs a male and female above the
abyss of waters in a silver cradle. He gives them, later, just
earth enough to build a house on. Their son, in the guise of a
squirrel, climbs to Numi Tarom, and receives from him a duck-skin
and a goose-skin. Clad in these, like Yehl in his raven-skin or
Odin in his hawk-skin, he enjoys the powers of the animals, dives
and brings up three handfuls of mud, which grow into our earth.
Elempi makes men out of clay and snow. The American version M. de
Charencey gives from Nicholas Perrot (Mem. sur les Moers, etc.,
Paris, 1864, i. 3). Perrot was a traveller of the seventeenth
century. The Great Hare takes a hand in the making of earth out of
fished-up soil. After giving other North American variants, and
comparing the animals that, after three attempts, fish up earth to
the dove and raven of Noah, M. de Charencey reaches the Bulgarians.
God made Satan, in the skin of a diver, fish up earth out of Lake
Tiberias. Three doves fish up earth, in the beginning, in the
Galician popular legend (Chodzko, Contes des Paysans Slaves, p.
374). In the INSULAR version, as in New Zealand, the island is
usually fished up with a hook by a heroic angler (Japan, Tonga,
Tahiti, New Zealand). The Hindoo version, in which the boar plays
the part of musk-rat, or duck, or diver, will be given in "Indian
Cosmogonic Myths".

[3] Brinton, American Hero-Myths, p. 54. Nicholas Perrot and
various Jesuit Relations are the original authorities. See "Divine
Myths of America". Mr. Leland, in his Algonkin Tales, prints the
same story, with the names altered to Glooskap and Malsumis, from
oral tradition. Compare Schoolcraft, v. 155, and i. 317, and the
versions of PP. Charlevoix and Lafitau. In Charlevoix the good and
bad brothers are Manabozho and Chokanipok or Chakekanapok, and out
of the bones and entrails of the latter many plants and animals
were fashioned, just as, according to a Greek myth preserved by
Clemens Alexandrinus, parsley and pomegranates arose from the blood
and scattered members of Dionysus Zagreus. The tale of Tawiscara's
violent birth is told of Set in Egypt, and of Indra in the Veda, as
will be shown later. This is a very common fable, and, as Mr.
Whitley Stokes tells me, it recurs in old Irish legends of the
birth of our Lord, Myth, as usual, invading religion, even
Christian religion.

According to another version of the origin of things, the maker of
them was one Michabous, or Michabo, the Great Hare. His birthplace
was shown at an island called Michilimakinak, like the birthplace
of Apollo at Delos. The Great Hare made the earth, and, as will
afterwards appear, was the inventor of the arts of life. On the
whole, the Iroquois and Algonkin myths agree in finding the origin
of life in an upper world beyond the sky. The earth was either
fished up (as by Brahma when he dived in the shape of a boar) by
some beast which descended to the bottom of the waters, or grew out
of the tortoise on whose back Ataentsic fell. The first dwellers
in the world were either beasts like Manabozho or Michabo, the
Great Hare, or the primeval wolves of the Uinkarets,[1] or the
creative musk-rat, or were more anthropomorphic heroes, such as
Ioskeha and Tawiscara. As for the things in the world, some were
made, some evolved, some are transformed parts of an early non-
natural man or animal. There is a tendency to identify Ataentsic,
the sky-woman, with the moon, and in the Two Great Brethren,
hostile as they are, to recognise moon and sun.[2]

[1] Powell, Bureau of Ethnology, i. 44.

[2] Dr. Brinton has endeavoured to demonstrate by arguments drawn
from etymology that Michabos, Messou, Missibizi or Manabozho, the
Great Hare, is originally a personification of Dawn (Myths of the
New World, p. 178). I have examined his arguments in the
Nineteenth Century, January, 1886, which may be consulted, and in
Melusine, January, 1887. The hare appears to be one out of the
countless primeval beast-culture heroes. A curious piece of magic
in a tradition of the Dene Hareskins may seem to aid Dr. Brinton's
theory: Pendant la nuit il entra, jeta au feu une tete de lievre
blanc et aussitot le jour se fit".--Petitot, Traditions Indiennes,
p. 173. But I take it that the sacrifice of a white hare's head
makes light magically, as sacrifice of black beasts and columns of
black smoke make rainclouds.

Some of the degraded Digger Indians of California have the
following myth of the origin of species. In this legend, it will
be noticed, a species of evolution takes the place of a theory of
creation. The story was told to Mr. Adam Johnston, who "drew" the
narrator by communicating to a chief the Biblical narrative of the
creation.[1] The chief said it was a strange story, and one that
he had never heard when he lived at the Mission of St. John under
the care of a Padre. According to this chief (he ruled over the
Po-to-yan-te tribe or Coyotes), the first Indians were coyotes.
When one of their number died, his body became full of little
animals or spirits. They took various shapes, as of deer,
antelopes, and so forth; but as some exhibited a tendency to fly
off to the moon, the Po-to-yan-tes now usually bury the bodies of
their dead, to prevent the extinction of species. Then the Indians
began to assume the shape of man, but it was a slow transformation.
At first they walked on all fours, then they would begin to develop
an isolated human feature, one finger, one toe, one eye, like the
ascidian, our first parent in the view of modern science. Then
they doubled their organs, got into the habit of sitting up, and
wore away their tails, which they unaffectedly regret, "as they
consider the tail quite an ornament". Ideas of the immortality of
the soul are said to be confined to the old women of the tribe,
and, in short, according to this version, the Digger Indians occupy
the modern scientific position.

[1] Schoolcraft, vol. v.

The Winnebagoes, who communicated their myths to Mr. Fletcher,[1]
are suspected of having been influenced by the Biblical narrative.
They say that the Great Spirit woke up as from a dream, and found
himself sitting in a chair. As he was all alone, he took a piece
of his body and a piece of earth, and made a man. He next made a
woman, steadied the earth by placing beasts beneath it at the
corners, and created plants and animals. Other men he made out of
bears. "He created the white man to make tools for the poor
Indians"--a very pleasing example of a teleological hypothesis and
of the doctrine of final causes as understood by the Winnebagoes.
The Chaldean myth of the making of man is recalled by the legend
that the Great Spirit cut out a piece of himself for the purpose;
the Chaldean wisdom coincides, too, with the philosophical acumen
of the Po-to-yan-te or Coyote tribe of Digger Indians. Though the
Chaldean theory is only connected with that of the Red Men by its
savagery, we may briefly state it in this place.

[1] Ibid., iv. 228.

According to Berosus, as reported by Alexander Polyhistor, the
universe was originally (as before Manabozho's time) water and mud.
Herein all manner of mixed monsters, with human heads, goat's
horns, four legs, and tails, bred confusedly. In place of the
Iroquois Ataentsic, a woman called Omoroca presided over the mud
and the menagerie. She, too, like Ataentsic, is sometimes
recognised as the moon. Affairs being in this state, Bel-Maruduk
arrived and cut Omoroca in two (Chokanipok destroyed Ataentsic),
and out of Omoroca Bel made the world and the things in it. We
have already seen that in savage myth many things are fashioned out
of a dead member of the extra-natural race. Lastly, Bel cut his
own head off, and with the blood the gods mixed clay and made men.
The Chaldeans inherited very savage fancies.[1]

[1] Cf. Syncellus, p. 29; Euseb., Chronic. Armen., ed. Mai, p. 10;
Lenormant, Origines de l'Histoire, i. 506.

One ought, perhaps, to apologise to the Chaldeans for inserting
their myths among the fables of the least cultivated peoples; but
it will scarcely be maintained that the Oriental myths differ in
character from the Digger Indian and Iroquois explanations of the
origin of things. The Ahts of Vancouver Island, whom Mr. Sproat
knew intimately, and of whose ideas he gives a cautious account
(for he was well aware of the limits of his knowledge), tell a
story of the usual character.[1] They believe in a member of the
extra-natural race, named Quawteaht, of whom we shall hear more in
his heroic character. As a demiurge "he is undoubtedly represented
as the general framer, I do not say creator, of all things, though
some special things are excepted. He made the earth and water, the
trees and rocks, and all the animals. Some say that Quawteaht made
the sun and moon, but the majority of the Indians believe that he
had nothing to do with their formation, and that they are deities
superior to himself, though now distant and less active. He gave
names to everything; among the rest, to all the Indian houses which
then existed, although inhabited only by birds and animals.
Quawteaht went away before the apparent change of the birds and
beasts into Indians, which took place in the following manner:--

"The birds and beasts of old had the spirits of the Indians
dwelling in them, and occupied the various coast villages, as the
Ahts do at present. One day a canoe manned by two Indians from an
unknown country approached the shore. As they coasted along, at
each house at which they landed, the deer, bear, elk, and other
brute inhabitants fled to the mountains, and the geese and other
birds flew to the woods and rivers. But in this flight, the
Indians, who had hitherto been contained in the bodies of the
various creatures, were left behind, and from that time they took
possession of the deserted dwellings and assumed the condition in
which we now see them."

[1] Sproat, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life, pp. 210, 211.

Crossing the northern continent of America to the west, we are in
the domains of various animal culture-heroes, ancestors and
teachers of the human race and the makers, to some extent, of the
things in the world. As the eastern tribes have their Great Hare,
so the western tribes have their wolf hero and progenitor, or their
coyote, or their raven, or their dog. It is possible, and even
certain in some cases, that the animal which was the dominant totem
of a race became heir to any cosmogonic legends that were floating

The country of the Papagos, on the eastern side of the Gulf of
California, is the southern boundary of the province of the coyote
or prairie wolf. The realm of his influence as a kind of
Prometheus, or even as a demiurge, extends very far northwards. In
the myth related by Con Quien, the chief of the central Papagos,[1]
the coyote acts the part of the fish in the Sanskrit legend of the
flood, while Montezuma undertakes the role of Manu. This Montezuma
was formed, like the Adams of so many races, out of potter's clay
in the hands of the Great Spirit. In all this legend it seems
plain enough that the name of Montezuma is imported from Mexico,
and has been arbitrarily given to the hero of the Papagos.
According to Mr. Powers, whose manuscript notes Mr. Bancroft quotes
(iii. 87), all the natives of California believe that their first
ancestors were created directly from the earth of their present
dwelling-places, and in very many cases these ancestors were

[1] Davidson, Indian Affairs Report, 1865, p. 131; Bancroft, iii.

The Pimas, a race who live near the Papagos on the eastern coast of
the Gulf of California, say that the earth was made by a being
named Earth-prophet. At first it appeared like a spider's web,
reminding one of the West African legend that a great spider
created the world. Man was made by the Earth-prophet out of clay
kneaded with sweat. A mysterious eagle and a deluge play a great
part in the later mythical adventures of war and the world, as
known to the Pimas.[1]

[1] Communicated to Mr. Bancroft by Mr. Stout of the Pima Agency.

In Oregon the coyote appears as a somewhat tentative demiurge, and
the men of his creation, like the beings first formed by Prajapati
in the Sanskrit myth, needed to be reviewed, corrected and
considerably augmented. The Chinooks of Oregon believe in the
usual race of magnified non-natural men, who preceded humanity.

These semi-divine people were called Ulhaipa by the Chinooks, and
Sehuiab by the Lummies. But the coyote was the maker of men. As
the first of Nature's journeymen, he made men rather badly, with
closed eyes and motionless feet. A kind being, named Ikanam,
touched up the coyote's crude essays with a sharp stone, opening
the eyes of men, and giving their hands and feet the powers of
movement. He also acted as a "culture-hero," introducing the first
arts. [1]

[1] [Frauchere's Narrative, 258; Gibb's Chinook Vocabulary;
Parker's exploring Tour, i. 139;] Bancroft, iii. 96.

Moving up the West Pacific coast we reach British Columbia, where
the coyote is not supposed to have been so active as our old friend
the musk-rat in the great work of the creation. According to the
Tacullies, nothing existed in the beginning but water and a musk-
rat. As the animal sought his food at the bottom of the water, his
mouth was frequently filled with mud. This he spat out, and so
gradually formed by alluvial deposit an island. This island was
small at first, like earth in the Sanskrit myth in the Satapatha
Brahmana, but gradually increased in bulk. The Tacullies have no
new light to throw on the origin of man.[1]

[1] Bancroft, iii. 98; Harmon's Journey, pp. 302, 303.

The Thlinkeets, who are neighbours of the Tacullies on the north,
incline to give crow or raven the chief role in the task of
creation, just as some Australians allot the same part to the
eagle-hawk, and the Yakuts to a hawk, a crow and a teal-duck. We
shall hear much of Yehl later, as one of the mythical heroes of the
introduction of civilisation. North of the Thlinkeets, a bird and
a dog take the creative duties, the Aleuts and Koniagas being
descended from a dog. Among the more northern Tinnehs, the dog who
was the progenitor of the race had the power of assuming the shape
of a handsome young man. He supplied the protoplasm of the
Tinnehs, as Purusha did that of the Aryan world, out of his own
body. A giant tore him to pieces, as the gods tore Purusha, and
out of the fragments thrown into the rivers came fish, the
fragments tossed into the air took life as birds, and so forth.[1]
This recalls the Australian myth of the origin of fish and the
Ananzi stories of the origin of whips.[2]

[1] Hearne, pp. 342, 343; Bancroft, iii. 106.

[2] See "Divine Myths of Lower Races". M. Cosquin, in Contes de
Lorraine, vol. i. p. 58, gives the Ananzi story.

Between the cosmogonic myths of the barbarous or savage American
tribes and those of the great cultivated American peoples, Aztecs,
Peruvians and Quiches, place should be found for the legends of
certain races in the South Pacific. Of these, the most important
are the Maoris or natives of New Zealand, the Mangaians and the
Samoans. Beyond the usual and world-wide correspondences of myth,
the divine tales of the various South Sea isles display
resemblances so many and essential that they must be supposed to
spring from a common and probably not very distant centre. As it
is practically impossible to separate Maori myths of the making of
things from Maori myths of the gods and their origin, we must pass
over here the metaphysical hymns and stories of the original divine
beings, Rangi and Papa, Heaven and Earth, and of their cruel but
necessary divorce by their children, who then became the usual
Titanic race which constructs and "airs" the world for the
reception of man.[1] Among these beings, more fully described in
our chapter on the gods of the lower races, is Tiki, with his wife
Marikoriko, twilight. Tane (male) is another of the primordial
race, children of earth and heaven, and between him and Tiki lies
the credit of having made or begotten humanity. Tane adorned the
body of his father, heaven (Rangi), by sticking stars all over it,
as disks of pearl-shells are stuck all over images. He was the
parent of trees and birds, but some trees are original and divine
beings. The first woman was not born, but formed out of the sun
and the echo, a pretty myth. Man was made by Tiki, who took red
clay, and kneaded it with his own blood, or with the red water of
swamps. The habits of animals, some of which are gods, while
others are descended from gods, follow from their conduct at the
moment when heaven and earth were violently divorced. New Zealand
itself, or at least one of the isles, was a huge fish caught by
Maui (of whom more hereafter). Just as Pund-jel, in Australia, cut
out the gullies and vales with his knife, so the mountains and
dells of New Zealand were produced by the knives of Maui's brothers
when they crimped his big fish.[2] Quite apart from those childish
ideas are the astonishing metaphysical hymns about the first
stirrings of light in darkness, of "becoming" and "being," which
remind us of Hegel and Heraclitus, or of the most purely
speculative ideas in the Rig-Veda.[3] Scarcely less metaphysical
are the myths of Mangaia, of which Mr. Gill[4] gives an elaborate

[1] See "Divine Myths of Lower Races".

[2] Taylor, New Zealand, pp. 115-121; Bastian, Heilige Sage der
Polynesier, pp. 36-50; Shortland, Traditions of New Zealanders.

[3] See chapter on "Divine Myths of the Lower Races," and on "Indian
Cosmogonic Myths"

[4] Myths and Songs from the South Pacific, pp. 1-22.

The Mangaian ideas of the world are complex, and of an early
scientific sort. The universe is like the hollow of a vast cocoa-
nut shell, divided into many imaginary circles like those of
mediaeval speculation. There is a demon at the stem, as it were,
of the cocoa-nut, and, where the edges of the imaginary shell
nearly meet, dwells a woman demon, whose name means "the very
beginning". In this system we observe efforts at metaphysics and
physical speculation. But it is very characteristic of rude
thought that such extremely abstract conceptions as "the very
beginning" are represented as possessing life and human form. The
woman at the bottom of the shell was anxious for progeny, and
therefore plucked a bit out of her own right side, as Eve was made
out of the rib of Adam. This piece of flesh became Vatea, the
father of gods and men. Vatea (like Oannes in the Chaldean legend)
was half man, half fish. "The Very Beginning" begat other children
in the same manner, and some of these became departmental gods of
ocean, noon-day, and so forth. Curiously enough, the Mangaians
seem to be sticklers for primogeniture. Vatea, as the first-born
son, originally had his domain next above that of his mother. But
she was pained by the thought that his younger brothers each took a
higher place than his; so she pushed his land up, and it is now
next below the solid crust on which mortals live in Mangaia. Vatea
married a woman from one of the under worlds named Papa, and their
children had the regular human form. One child was born either
from Papa's head, like Athene from the head of Zeus, or from her
armpit, like Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus. Another child may be
said, in the language of dog-breeders, to have "thrown back," for
he wears the form of a white or black lizard. In the Mangaian
system the sky is a solid vault of blue stone. In the beginning of
things the sky (like Ouranos in Greece and Rangi in New Zealand)
pressed hard on earth, and the god Ru was obliged to thrust the two
asunder, or rather he was engaged in this task when Maui tossed
both Ru and the sky so high up that they never came down again. Ru
is now the Atlas of Mangaia, "the sky-supporting Ru".[1] His lower
limbs fell to earth, and became pumice-stone. In these Mangaian
myths we discern resemblances to New Zealand fictions, as is
natural, and the tearing of the body of "the Very Beginning" has
numerous counterparts in European, American and Indian fable. But
on the whole, the Mangaian myths are more remarkable for their
semi-scientific philosophy than for their coincidences with the
fancies of other early peoples.

[1] Gill, p. 59.

The Samoans, like the Maoris and Greeks, hold that heaven at first
fell down and lay upon earth.[1] The arrowroot and another plant
pushed up heaven, and "the heaven-pushing place" is still known and
pointed out. Others say the god Ti-iti-i pushed up heaven, and his
feet made holes six feet deep in the rocks during this exertion.
The other Samoan myths chiefly explain the origin of fire, and the
causes of the characteristic forms and habits of animals and
plants. The Samoans, too, possess a semi-mythical, metaphysical
cosmogony, starting from NOTHING, but rapidly becoming the history
of rocks, clouds, hills, dew and various animals, who intermarried,
and to whom the royal family of Samoa trace their origin through
twenty-three generations. So personal are Samoan abstract
conceptions, that "SPACE had a long-legged stool," on to which a
head fell, and grew into a companion for Space. Yet another myth
says that the god Tangaloa existed in space, and made heaven and
earth, and sent down his daughter, a snipe. Man he made out of the
mussel-fish. So confused are the doctrines of the Samoans.[2]

[1] Turner's Samoa, p. 198.

[2] Turner's Samoa, pp. 1-9.

Perhaps the cosmogonic myths of the less cultivated races have now
been stated in sufficient number. As an example of the ideas which
prevailed in an American race of higher culture, we may take the
Quiche legend as given in the Popol Vuh, a post-Christian
collection of the sacred myths of the nation, written down after
the Spanish conquest, and published in French by the Abbe Brasseur
de Bourbourg.[1]

[1] See Popol Vuh in Mr. Max Muller's Chips from a German Workshop,
with a discussion of its authenticity. In his Annals of the
Cakchiquels, a nation bordering on the Quiches, Dr. Brinton
expresses his belief in the genuine character of the text. Compare
Bancroft, iii. p. 45. The ancient and original Popol Vuh, the
native book in native characters, disappeared during the Spanish

The Quiches, like their neighbours the Cakchiquels, were a highly
civilised race, possessing well-built towns, roads and the arts of
life, and were great agriculturists. Maize, the staple of food
among these advanced Americans, was almost as great a god as Soma
among the Indo-Aryans. The Quiches were acquainted with a kind of
picture-writing, and possessed records in which myth glided into
history. The Popol Vuh, or book of the people, gives itself out as
a post-Columbian copy of these traditions, and may doubtless
contain European ideas. As we see in the Commentarias Reales of
the half-blood Inca Garcilasso de la Vega, the conquered people
were anxious to prove that their beliefs were by no means so
irrational and so "devilish" as to Spanish critics they appeared.
According to the Popol Vuh, there was in the beginning nothing but
water and the feathered serpent, one of their chief divine beings;
but there also existed somehow, "they that gave life". Their names
mean "shooter of blow-pipe at coyote," "at opossum," and so forth.
They said "Earth," and there WAS earth, and plants growing thereon.
Animals followed, and the Givers of life said "Speak our names,"
but the animals could only cluck and croak. Then said the Givers,
"Inasmuch as ye cannot praise us, ye shall be killed and eaten".
They then made men out of clay; these men were weak and watery, and
by water they were destroyed. Next they made men of wood and women
of the pith of trees. These puppets married and gave in marriage,
and peopled earth with wooden mannikins. This unsatisfactory race
was destroyed by a rain of resin and by the wild beasts. The
survivors developed into apes. Next came a period occupied by the
wildest feats of the magnified non-natural race and of animals.
The record is like the description of a supernatural pantomime--the
nightmare of a god. The Titans upset hills, are turned into stone,
and behave like Heitsi Eibib in the Namaqua myths.

Last of all, men were made of yellow and white maize, and these
gave more satisfaction, but their sight was contracted. These,
however, survived, and became the parents of the present stock of

Here we have the conceptions of creation and of evolution combined.
Men are MADE, but only the fittest survive; the rest are either
destroyed or permitted to develop into lower species. A similar
mixture of the same ideas will be found in one of the Brahmanas
among the Aryans of India. It is to be observed that the Quiche
myths, as recorded in Popol Vuh, contain not only traces of belief
in a creative word and power, but many hymns of a lofty and
beautifully devotional character.

"Hail! O Creator, O Former! Thou that hearest and understandest
us, abandon us not, forsake us not! O God, thou that art in heaven
and on the earth, O Heart of Heaven, O Heart of Earth, give us
descendants and posterity as long as the light endures."

This is an example of the prayers of the men made out of maize,
made especially that they might "call on the name" of the god or
gods. Whether we are to attribute this and similar passages to
Christian influence (for Popol Vuh, as we have it, is but an
attempt to collect the fragments of the lost book that remained in
men's minds after the conquest), or whether the purer portions of
the myth be due to untaught native reflection and piety, it is not
possible to determine. It is improbable that the ideas of a
hostile race would be introduced into religious hymns by their
victims. Here, as elsewhere in the sacred legends of civilised
peoples, various strata of mythical and religious thought coexist.

No American people reached such a pitch of civilisation as the
Aztecs of Anahuac, whose capital was the city of Mexico. It is
needless here to repeat the story of their grandeur and their fall.
Obscure as their history, previous to the Spanish invasion, may be,
it is certain that they possessed a highly organised society,
fortified towns, established colleges or priesthoods, magnificent
temples, an elaborate calendar, great wealth in the precious
metals, the art of picture-writing in considerable perfection, and
a despotic central government. The higher classes in a society
like this could not but develop speculative systems, and it is
alleged that shortly before the reign of Montezuma attempts had
been made to introduce a pure monotheistic religion. But the
ritual of the Aztecs remained an example of the utmost barbarity.
Never was a more cruel faith, not even in Carthage. Nowhere did
temples reek with such pools of human blood; nowhere else, not in
Dahomey and Ashanti, were human sacrifice, cannibalism and torture
so essential to the cult that secured the favour of the gods. In
these dark fanes--reeking with gore, peopled by monstrous shapes of
idols bird-headed or beast-headed, and adorned with the hideous
carvings in which we still see the priest, under the mask of some
less ravenous forest beast, tormenting the victim--in these
abominable temples the Castilian conquerors might well believe that
they saw the dwellings of devils.

Yet Mexican religion had its moral and beautiful aspect, and the
gods, or certain of the gods, required from their worshippers not
only bloody hands, but clean hearts.

To the gods we return later. The myths of the origin of things may
be studied without a knowledge of the whole Aztec Pantheon. Our
authorities, though numerous, lack complete originality and are
occasionally confused. We have first the Aztec monuments and
hieroglyphic scrolls, for the most part undeciphered. These merely
attest the hideous and cruel character of the deities. Next we
have the reports of early missionaries, like Sahagun and Mendieta,
of conquerors, like Bernal Diaz, and of noble half-breeds, such as

[1] Bancroft's Native Races of Pacific Coast of North America, vol.
iii., contains an account of the sources, and, with Sahagun and
Acosta, is mainly followed here. See also J. G. Muller, Ur.
Amerik. Rel., p. 507. See chapter on the "Divine Myths of Mexico".

There are two elements in Mexican, as in Quiche, and Indo-Aryan,
and Maori, and even Andaman cosmogonic myth. We find the purer
religion and the really philosophic speculation concurrent with
such crude and childish stories as usually satisfy the intellectual
demands of Ahts, Cahrocs and Bushmen; but of the purer and more
speculative opinions we know little. Many of the noble, learned
and priestly classes of Aztecs perished at the conquest. The
survivors were more or less converted to Catholicism, and in their
writings probably put the best face possible on the native
religion. Like the Spanish clergy, their instructors, they were
inclined to explain away their national gods by a system of
euhemerism, by taking it for granted that the gods and culture-
heroes had originally been ordinary men, worshipped after their
decease. This is almost invariably the view adopted by Sahagun.
Side by side with the confessions, as it were, of the clergy and
cultivated classes coexisted the popular beliefs, the myths of the
people, partaking of the nature of folk-lore, but not rejected by
the priesthood.

Both strata of belief are represented in the surviving cosmogonic
myths of the Aztecs. Probably we may reckon in the first or
learned and speculative class of tales the account of a series of
constructions and reconstructions of the world. This idea is not
peculiar to the higher mythologies, the notion of a deluge and
recreation or renewal of things is almost universal, and even among
the untutored Australians there are memories of a flood and of an
age of ruinous winds. But the theory of definite epochs,
calculated in accordance with the Mexican calendar, of epochs in
which things were made and re-made, answers closely to the Indo-
Aryan conception of successive kalpas, and can only have been
developed after the method of reckoning time had been carried to
some perfection. "When heaven and earth were fashioned, they had
already been four times created and destroyed," say the fragments
of what is called the Chimalpopoca manuscript. Probably this
theory of a series of kalpas is only one of the devices by which
the human mind has tried to cheat itself into the belief that it
can conceive a beginning of things. The earth stands on an
elephant, the elephant on a tortoise, and it is going too far to
ask what the tortoise stands on. In the same way the world's
beginning seems to become more intelligible or less puzzling when
it is thrown back into a series of beginnings and endings. This
method also was in harmony with those vague ideas of evolution and
of the survival of the fittest which we have detected in myth. The
various tentative human races of the Popol Vuh degenerated or were
destroyed because they did not fulfil the purposes for which they
were made. In Brahmanic myth we shall see that type after type was
condemned and perished because it was inadequate, or inadequately
equipped--because it did not harmonise with its environment.[1]
For these series of experimental creations and inefficient
evolutions vast spaces of time were required, according to the
Aztec and Indo-Aryan philosophies. It is not impossible that
actual floods and great convulsions of nature may have been
remembered in tradition, and may have lent colour and form to these
somewhat philosophic myths of origins. From such sources probably
comes the Mexican hypothesis of a water-age (ending in a deluge),
an earth-age (ending in an earthquake), a wind-age (ending in
hurricanes), and the present dispensation, to be destroyed by fire.

[1] As an example of a dim evolutionary idea, note the myths of the
various ages as reported by Mendieta, according to which there were
five earlier ages "or suns" of bad quality, so that the contemporary
human beings were unable to live on the fruits of the earth.

The less philosophic and more popular Aztec legend of the
commencement of the world is mainly remarkable for the importance
given in it to objects of stone. For some reason, stones play a
much greater part in American than in other mythologies. An
emerald was worshipped in the temple of Pachacamac, who was,
according to Garcilasso, the supreme and spiritual deity of the
Incas. The creation legend of the Cakchiquels of Guatemala[1]
makes much of a mysterious, primeval and animated obsidian stone.
In the Iroquois myths[2] stones are the leading characters. Nor
did Aztec myth escape this influence.

[1] Brinton, Annals of the Cakchiquels.

[2] Erminie Smith, Bureau of Ethnol. Report, ii.

There was a god in heaven named Citlalatonac, and a goddess,
Citlalicue. When we speak of "heaven" we must probably think of
some such world of ordinary terrestrial nature above the sky as
that from which Ataentsic fell in the Huron story. The goddess
gave birth to a flint-knife, and flung the flint down to earth.
This abnormal birth partly answers to that of the youngest of the
Adityas, the rejected abortion in the Veda, and to the similar
birth and rejection of Maui in New Zealand. From the fallen flint-
knife sprang our old friends the magnified non-natural beings with
human characteristics, "the gods," to the number of 1600. The gods
sent up the hawk (who in India and Australia generally comes to the
front on these occasions), and asked their mother, or rather
grandmother, to help them to make men, to be their servants.
Citlalicue rather jeered at her unconsidered offspring. She
advised them to go to the lord of the homes of the departed,
Mictlanteuctli, and borrow a bone or some ashes of the dead who are
with him. We must never ask for consistency from myths. This
statement implies that men had already been in existence, though
they were not yet created. Perhaps they had perished in one of the
four great destructions. With difficulty and danger the gods stole
a bone from Hades, placed it in a bowl, and smeared it with their
own blood, as in Chaldea and elsewhere. Finally, a boy and a girl
were born out of the bowl. From this pair sprang men, and certain
of the gods, jumping into a furnace, became sun and moon. To the
sun they then, in Aztec fashion, sacrificed themselves, and there,
one might think, was an end of them. But they afterwards appeared
in wondrous fashions to their worshippers, and ordained the ritual
of religion. According to another legend, man and woman (as in
African myths) struggled out of a hole in the ground.[1]

[1] Authorities: Ixtlil.; Kingsborough, ix. pp. 205, 206; Sahagun,
Hist. Gen., i. 3, vii. 2; J. G. Muller, p. 510, where Muller
compares the Delphic conception of ages of the world; Bancroft,
iii. pp. 60, 65.

The myths of the peoples under the empire of the Incas in Peru are
extremely interesting, because almost all mythical formations are
found existing together, while we have historical evidence as to
the order and manner of their development. The Peru of the Incas
covered the modern state of the same name, and included Ecuador,
with parts of Chili and Bolivia. M. Reville calculates that the
empire was about 2500 miles in length, four times as long as
France, and that its breadth was from 250 to 500 miles. The
country, contained three different climatic regions, and was
peopled by races of many different degrees of culture, all more or
less subject to the dominion of the Children of the Sun. The three
regions were the dry strip along the coast, the fertile and
cultivated land about the spurs of the Cordilleras, and the inland
mountain regions, inhabited by the wildest races. Near Cuzco, the
Inca capital, was the Lake of Titicaca, the Mediterranean, as it
were, of Peru, for on the shores of this inland sea was developed
the chief civilisation of the new world.

As to the institutions, myths and religion of the empire, we have
copious if contradictory information. There are the narratives of
the Spanish conquerors, especially of Pizarro's chaplain, Valverde,
an ignorant bigoted fanatic. Then we have somewhat later
travellers and missionaries, of whom Cieza de Leon (his book was
published thirty years after the conquest, in 1553) is one of the
most trustworthy. The "Royal Commentaries" of Garcilasso de la
Vega, son of an Inca lady and a Spanish conqueror, have often
already been quoted. The critical spirit and sound sense of
Garcilasso are in remarkable contrast to the stupid orthodoxy of
the Spaniards, but some allowance must be made for his fervent
Peruvian patriotism. He had heard the Inca traditions repeated in
boyhood, and very early in life collected all the information which
his mother and maternal uncle had to give him, or which could be
extracted from the quipus (the records of knotted cord), and from
the commemorative pictures of his ancestors. Garcilasso had
access, moreover, to the "torn papers" of Blas Valera, an early
Spanish missionary of unusual sense and acuteness. Christoval de
Moluna is also an excellent authority, and much may be learned from
the volume of Rites and Laws of the Yncas.[1]

[1] A more complete list of authorities, including the garrulous
Acosta, is published by M. Reville in his Hibbert Lectures, pp.
136, 137. Garcilasso, Cieza de Leon, Christoval de Moluna, Acosta
and the Rites and Laws have all been translated by Mr. Clements
Markham, and are published, with the editor's learned and ingenious
notes, in the collection of the Hakluyt Society. Care must be
taken to discriminate between what is reported about the Indians of
the various provinces, who were in very different grades of
culture, and what is told about the Incas themselves.

The political and religious condition of the Peruvian empire is
very clearly conceived and stated by Garcilasso. Without making
due allowance for that mysterious earlier civilisation, older than
the Incas, whose cyclopean buildings are the wonder of travellers,
Garcilasso attributes the introduction of civilisation to his own
ancestors. Allowing for what is confessedly mythical in his
narrative, it must be admitted that he has a firm grasp of what the
actual history must have been. He recognises a period of savagery
before the Incas, a condition of the rudest barbarism, which still
existed on the fringes and mountain recesses of the empire. The
religion of that period was mere magic and totemism. From all
manner of natural objects, but chiefly from beasts and birds, the
various savage stocks of Peru claimed descent, and they revered and
offered sacrifice to their totemic ancestors.[1] Garcilasso adds,
what is almost incredible, that the Indians tamely permitted
themselves to be eaten by their totems, when these were carnivorous
animals. They did this with the less reluctance as they were
cannibals, and accustomed to breed children for the purposes of the
cuisine from captive women taken in war.[2] Among the huacas or
idols, totems, fetishes and other adorable objects of the Indians,
worshipped before and retained after the introduction of the Inca
sun-totem and solar cult, Garcilasso names trees, hills, rocks,
caves, fountains, emeralds, pieces of jasper, tigers, lions, bears,
foxes, monkeys, condors, owls, lizards, toads, frogs, sheep, maize,
the sea, "for want of larger gods, crabs" and bats. The bat was
also the totem of the Zotzil, the chief family of the Cakchiquels
of Guatemala, and the most high god of the Cakchiquels was
worshipped in the shape of a bat. We are reminded of religion as
it exists in Samoa. The explanation of Blas Valera was that in
each totem (pacarissa) the Indians adored the devil.

[1] Com. Real., vol. i., chap. ix., x. xi. pp. 47-53.

[2] Cieza de Leon, xii., xv., xix., xxi., xxiii., xxvi., xxviii.,
xxxii. Cieza is speaking of people in the valley of Cauca, in New

Athwart this early religion of totems and fetishes came, in
Garcilasso's narrative, the purer religion of the Incas, with what
he regards as a philosophic development of a belief in a Supreme
Being. According to him, the Inca sun-worship was really a
totemism of a loftier character. The Incas "knew how to choose
gods better than the Indians". Garcilasso's theory is that the
earlier totems were selected chiefly as distinguishing marks by the
various stocks, though, of course, this does not explain why the
animals or other objects of each family were worshipped or were
regarded as ancestors, and the blood-connections of the men who
adored them. The Incas, disdaining crabs, lizards, bats and even
serpents and lions, "chose" the sun. Then, just like the other
totemic tribes, they feigned to be of the blood and lineage of the

This fable is, in brief, the Inca myth of the origin of
civilisation and of man, or at least of their breed of men. As M.
Reville well remarks, it is obvious that the Inca claim is an
adaptation of the local myth of Lake Titicaca, the inland sea of
Peru. According to that myth, the Children of the Sun, the
ancestors of the Incas, came out of the earth (as in Greek and
African legends) at Lake Titicaca, or reached its shores after
wandering from the hole or cave whence they first emerged. The
myth, as adapted by the Incas, takes for granted the previous
existence of mankind, and, in some of its forms, the Inca period is
preceded by the deluge.

Of the Peruvian myth concerning the origin of things, the following
account is given by a Spanish priest, Christoval de Moluna, in a
report to the Bishop of Cuzco in 1570.[1] The story was collected
from the lips of ancient Peruvians and old native priests, who
again drew their information in part from the painted records
reserved in the temple of the sun near Cuzco. The legend begins
with a deluge myth; a cataclysm ended a period of human existence.
All mankind perished except a man and woman, who floated in a box
to a distance of several hundred miles from Cuzco. There the
creator commanded them to settle, and there, like Pund-jel in
Australia, he made clay images of men of all races, attired in
their national dress, and then animated them. They were all
fashioned and painted as correct models, and were provided with
their national songs and with seed-corn. They then were put into
the earth, and emerged all over the world at the proper places,
some (as in Africa and Greece) coming out of fountains, some out of
trees, some out of caves. For this reason they made huacas
(worshipful objects or fetishes) of the trees, caves and fountains.
Some of the earliest men were changed into stones, others into
falcons, condors and other creatures which we know were totems in
Peru. Probably this myth of metamorphosis was invented to account
for the reverence paid to totems or pacarissas as the Peruvians
called them. In Tiahuanaco, where the creation, or rather
manufacture of men took place, the creator turned many sinners into
stones. The sun was made in the shape of a man, and, as he soared
into heaven, he called out in a friendly fashion to Manco Ccapac,
the Ideal first Inca, "Look upon me as thy father, and worship me
as thy father". In these fables the creator is called
Pachyachachi, "Teacher of the world". According to Christoval, the
creator and his sons were "eternal and unchangeable". Among the
Canaris men descend from the survivor of the deluge, and a
beautiful bird with the face of a woman, a siren in fact, but known
better to ornithologists as a macaw. "The chief cause," says the
good Christoval, "of these fables was ignorance of God."

[1] Rites and Laws of the Yncas, p. 4, Hakluyt Society, 1873.

The story, as told by Cieza de Leon, runs thus:[1] A white man of
great stature (in fact, "a magnified non-natural man") came into
the world, and gave life to beasts and human beings. His name was
Ticiviracocha, and he was called the Father of the Sun.[2] There
are likenesses of him in the temple, and he was regarded as a moral
teacher. It was owing apparently to this benevolent being that
four mysterious brothers and sisters emerged from a cave--Children
of the Sun, fathers of the Incas, teachers of savage men. Their
own conduct, however, was not exemplary, and they shut up in a hole
in the earth the brother of whom they were jealous. This incident
is even more common in the marchen or household tales than in the
regular tribal or national myths of the world.[3] The buried
brother emerged again with wings, and "without doubt he must have
been some devil," says honest Cieza de Leon. This brother was
Manco Ccapac, the heroic ancestor of the Incas, and he turned his
jealous brethren into stones. The whole tale is in the spirit
illustrated by the wilder romances of the Popol Vuh.

[1] Second Part of the Chronicles of Peru, p 5.

[2] See Making of Religion, pp. 265-270. Name and God are much

[3] The story of Joseph and the marchen of Jean de l'Ours are well-
known examples.

Garcilasso gives three forms of this myth. According to "the old
Inca," his maternal uncle, it was the sun which sent down two of
his children, giving them a golden staff, which would sink into the
ground at the place where they were to rest from wandering. It
sank at Lake Titicaca. About the current myths Garcilasso says
generally that they were "more like dreams" than straightforward
stories; but, as he adds, the Greeks and Romans also "invented
fables worthy to be laughed at, and in greater number than the
Indians. The stories of one age of heathenism may be compared with
those of the other, and in many points they will be found to
agree." This critical position of Garcilasso's will be proved
correct when we reach the myths of Greeks and Indo-Aryans. The
myth as narrated north-east of Cuzco speaks of the four brothers
and four sisters who came out of caves, and the caves in Inca times
were panelled with gold and silver.

Athwart all these lower myths, survivals from the savage stage,
comes what Garcilasso regards as the philosophical Inca belief in
Pachacamac. This deity, to Garcilasso's mind, was purely
spiritual: he had no image and dwelt in no temple; in fact, he is
that very God whom the Spanish missionaries proclaimed. This view,
though the fact has been doubted, was very probably held by the
Amautas, or philosophical class in Peru.[1] Cieza de Leon says
"the name of this devil, Pachacamac, means creator of the world".
Garcilasso urges that Pachacamac was the animus mundi; that he did
not "make the world," as Pund-jel and other savage demiurges made
it, but that he was to the universe what the soul is to the body.

[1] Com. Real., vol. i. p. 106.

Here we find ourselves, if among myths at all, among the myths of
metaphysics--rational myths; that is, myths corresponding to our
present stage of thought, and therefore intelligible to us.
Pachacamac "made the sun, and lightning, and thunder, and of these
the sun was worshipped by the Incas". Garcilasso denies that the
moon was worshipped. The reflections of the sceptical or
monotheistic Inca, who declared that the sun, far from being a free
agent, "seems like a thing held to its task," are reported by
Garcilasso, and appear to prove that solar worship was giving way,
in the minds of educated Peruvians, a hundred years before the
arrival of Pizarro and Valverde with his missal.[1]

[1] Garcilasso, viii. 8, quoting Blas Valera.

From this summary it appears that the higher Peruvian religion had
wrested to its service, and to the dynastic purposes of the Incas,
a native myth of the familiar class, in which men come ready made
out of holes in the ground. But in Peru we do not find nearly such
abundance of other savage origin myths as will be proved to exist
in the legends of Greeks and Indo-Aryans. The reason probably is
that Peru left no native literature; the missionaries disdained
stories of "devils," and Garcilasso's common sense and patriotism
were alike revolted by the incidents of stories "more like dreams"
than truthful records. He therefore was silent about them. In
Greece and India, on the other hand, the native religious
literature preserved myths of the making of man out of clay, of his
birth from trees and stones, of the fashioning of things out of the
fragments of mutilated gods and Titans, of the cosmic egg, of the
rending and wounding of a personal heaven and a personal earth, of
the fishing up from the waters of a tiny earth which grew greater,
of the development of men out of beasts, with a dozen other such
notions as are familiar to contemporary Bushmen, Australians,
Digger Indians, and Cahrocs. But in Greece and India these ideas
coexist with myths and religious beliefs as purely spiritual and
metaphysical as the belief in the Pachacamac of Garcilasso and the
Amautas of Peru.



Authorities--Vedas--Brahmanas--Social condition of Vedic India--
Arts--Ranks--War--Vedic fetishism--Ancestor worship--Date of Rig-
Veda Hymns doubtful--Obscurity of the Hymns--Difficulty of
interpreting the real character of Veda--Not primitive but
sacerdotal--The moral purity not innocence but refinement.

Before examining the myths of the Aryans of India, it is necessary
to have a clear notion of the nature of the evidence from which we
derive our knowledge of the subject. That evidence is found in a
large and incongruous mass of literary documents, the heritage of
the Indian people. In this mass are extremely ancient texts (the
Rig-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda), expository comments of a date so
much later that the original meaning of the older documents was
sometimes lost (the Brahmanas), and poems and legendary collections
of a period later still, a period when the whole character of
religious thought had sensibly altered. In this literature there
is indeed a certain continuity; the names of several gods of the
earliest time are preserved in the legends of the latest. But the
influences of many centuries of change, of contending philosophies,
of periods of national growth and advance, and of national
decadence and decay, have been at work on the mythology of India.
Here we have myths that were perhaps originally popular tales, and
are probably old; here again, we have later legends that certainly
were conceived in the narrow minds of a pedantic and ceremonious
priesthood. It is not possible, of course, to analyse in this
place all the myths of all the periods; we must be content to point
out some which seem to be typical examples of the working of the
human intellect in its earlier or its later childhood, in its
distant hours of barbaric beginnings, or in the senility of its

The documents which contain Indian mythology may be divided,
broadly speaking, into four classes. First, and most ancient in
date of composition, are the collections of hymns known as the
Vedas. Next, and (as far as date of collection goes) far less
ancient, are the expository texts called the Brahmanas. Later
still, come other manuals of devotion and of sacred learning,
called Sutras and Upanishads; and last are the epic poems
(Itihasas), and the books of legends called Puranas. We are
chiefly concerned here with the Vedas and Brahmanas. A gulf of
time, a period of social and literary change, separates the
Brahmanas from the Vedas. But the epics and Puranas differ perhaps
even still more from the Brahmanas, on account of vast religious
changes which brought new gods into the Indian Olympus, or elevated
to the highest place old gods formerly of low degree. From the
composition of the first Vedic hymn to the compilation of the
latest Purana, religious and mythopoeic fancy was never at rest.

Various motives induced various poets to assign, on various
occasions the highest powers to this or the other god. The most
antique legends were probably omitted or softened by some early
Vedic bard (Rishi) of noble genius, or again impure myths were
brought from the obscurity of oral circulation and foisted into
literature by some poet less divinely inspired. Old deities were
half-forgotten, and forgotten deities were resuscitated. Sages
shook off superstitious bonds, priests forged new fetters on
ancient patterns for themselves and their flocks. Philosophy
explained away the more degrading myths; myths as degrading were
suggested to dark and servile hearts by unscientific etymologies.
Over the whole mass of ancient mythology the new mythology of a
debased Brahmanic ritualism grew like some luxurious and baneful
parasite. It is enough for our purpose if we can show that even in
the purest and most antique mythology of India the element of
traditional savagery survived and played its part, and that the
irrational legends of the Vedas and Brahmanas can often be
explained as relics of savage philosophy or faith, or as novelties
planned on the ancient savage model, whether borrowed or native to
the race.

The oldest documents of Indian mythology are the Vedas, usually
reckoned as four in number. The oldest, again, of the four, is the
Sanhita ("collection") of the Rig-Veda. It is a purely lyrical
assortment of the songs "which the Hindus brought with them from
their ancient homes on the banks of the Indus". In the
manuscripts, the hymns are classified according to the families of
poets to whom they are ascribed. Though composed on the banks of
the Indus by sacred bards, the hymns were compiled and arranged in
India proper. At what date the oldest hymns of which this
collection is made up were first chanted it is impossible to say
with even approximate certainty. Opinions differ, or have
differed, between 2400 B.C. and 1400 B.C. as the period when the
earliest sacred lyrics of the Veda may first have been listened by
gods and men. In addition to the Rig-Veda we have the Sanhita of
the Sama-Veda, "an anthology taken from the Rik-Samhita, comprising
those of its verses which were intended to be chanted at the
ceremonies of the soma sacrifice".[1] It is conjectured that the
hymns of the Sama-Veda were borrowed from the Rig-Veda before the
latter had been edited and stereotyped into its present form. Next
comes the Yajur-Veda, "which contains the formulas for the entire
sacrificial ceremonial, and indeed forms its proper foundations,"
the other Vedas being devoted to the soma sacrifice.[2] The Yajur-
Veda has two divisions, known as the Black and the White Yajur,
which have common matter, but differ in arrangement. The Black
Yajur-Veda is also called the Taittirya, and it is described as "a
motley undigested jumble of different pieces".[3] Last comes
Atharva-Veda, not always regarded as a Veda properly speaking. It
derives its name from an old semi-mythical priestly family, the
Atharvans, and is full of magical formulae, imprecations, folk-lore
and spells. There are good reasons for thinking this late as a
collection, however early may be the magical ideas expressed in its

[1] Weber, History of Indian Literature, Eng. transl., p. 63.

[2] Ibid., p. 86.

[3] Ibid, p. 87. The name Taittirya is derived from a partridge,
or from a Rishi named Partridge in Sanskrit. There is a story that
the pupils of a sage were turned into partridges, to pick up sacred

[4] Barth (Les Religions de l'Inde, p. 6) thinks that the existence
of such a collection as the Atharva-Veda is implied, perhaps, in a
text of the Rig-Veda, x. 90, 9.

Between the Vedas, or, at all events, between the oldest of the
Vedas, and the compilation of the Brahmanas, these "canonised
explanations of a canonised text,"[1] it is probable that some
centuries and many social changes intervened.[2]

[1] Whitney, Oriental and Linguistic studies, First Series, p. 4.

[2] Max Muller, Biographical Essays, p. 20. "The prose portions
presuppose the hymns, and, to judge from the utter inability of the
authors of the Brahmanas to understand the antiquated language of
the hymns, these Brahmanas must be ascribed to a much later period
than that which gave birth to the hymns."

If we would criticise the documents for Indian mythology in a
scientific manner, it is now necessary that we should try to
discover, as far as possible, the social and religious condition of
the people among whom the Vedas took shape. Were they in any sense
"primitive," or were they civilised? Was their religion in its
obscure beginnings or was it already a special and peculiar
development, the fruit of many ages of thought? Now it is an
unfortunate thing that scholars have constantly, and as it were
involuntarily, drifted into the error of regarding the Vedas as if
they were "primitive," as if they exhibited to us the "germs" and
"genesis" of religion and mythology, as if they contained the
simple though strange utterances of PRIMITIVE thought.[1] Thus Mr.
Whitney declares, in his Oriental and Linguistic Studies, "that the
Vedas exhibit to us the very earliest germs of the Hindu culture".
Mr. Max Muller avers that "no country can be compared to India as
offering opportunities for a real study of the genesis and growth
of religion".[2] Yet the same scholar observes that "even the
earliest specimens of Vedic poetry belong to the modern history of
the race, and that the early period of the historical growth of
religion had passed away before the Rishis (bards) could have
worshipped their Devas or bright beings with sacred hymns and
invocations". Though this is manifestly true, the sacred hymns and
invocations of the Rishis are constantly used as testimony bearing
on the beginning of the historical growth of religion. Nay, more;
these remains of "the modern history of the race" are supposed to
exhibit mythology in the process of making, as if the race had
possessed no mythology before it reached a comparatively modern
period, the Vedic age. In the same spirit, Dr. Muir, the learned
editor of Sanskrit Texts, speaks in one place as if the Vedic hymns
"illustrated the natural workings of the human mind in the period
of its infancy".[3] A brief examination of the social and
political and religious condition of man, as described by the poets
of the Vedas, will prove that his infancy had long been left behind
him when the first Vedic hymns were chanted.

[1] Ibid., Rig-Veda Sanhita, p. vii.

[2] Hibbert Lectures, p. 131.

[3] Nothing can prove more absolutely and more briefly the late
character of Vedic faith than the fact that the faith had already
to be defended against the attacks of sceptics. The impious denied
the existence of Indra because he was invisible. Rig-Veda, ii. 12,
5; viii. 89, 3; v. 30, 1-2; vi. 27, 3. Bergaigne, ii. 167. "Es
gibt keinen Indra, so hat der eine und der ander gesagt" (Ludwig's

As Barth observes, the very ideas which permeate the Veda, the idea
of the mystic efficacy of sacrifice, of brahma, prove that the
poems are profoundly sacerdotal; and this should have given pause
to the writers who have persisted in representing the hymns as the
work of primitive shepherds praising their gods as they feed their
flocks.[1] In the Vedic age the ranks of society are already at
least as clearly defined as in Homeric Greece. "We men," says a
poet of the Rig-Veda,[2] "have all our different imaginations and
designs. The carpenter seeks something that is broken, the doctor
a patient, the priest some one who will offer libations. . . . The
artisan continually seeks after a man with plenty of gold. . . . I
am a poet, my father is a doctor, and my mother is a grinder of
corn." Chariots and the art of the chariot-builder are as
frequently spoken of as in the Iliad. Spears, swords, axes and
coats of mail were in common use. The art of boat-building or of
ship-building was well known. Kine and horses, sheep and dogs, had
long been domesticated. The bow was a favourite weapon, and
warriors fought in chariots, like the Homeric Greeks and the
Egyptians. Weaving was commonly practised. The people probably
lived, as a rule, in village settlements, but cities or fortified
places were by no means unknown.[3] As for political society,
"kings are frequently mentioned in the hymns," and "it was regarded
as eminently beneficial for a king to entertain a family priest,"
on whom he was expected to confer thousands of kine, lovely slaves
and lumps of gold. In the family polygamy existed, probably as the
exception. There is reason to suppose that the brother-in-law was
permitted, if not expected, to "raise up seed" to his dead brother,
as among the Hebrews.[4] As to literature, the very structure of
the hymns proves that it was elaborate and consciously artistic.
M. Barth writes: "It would be a great mistake to speak of the
primitive naivete of the Vedic poetry and religion".[5] Both the
poetry and the religion, on the other hand, display in the highest
degree the mark of the sacerdotal spirit. The myths, though
originally derived from nature-worship, in an infinite majority of
cases only reflect natural phenomena through a veil of ritualistic
corruptions.[6] The rigid division of castes is seldom recognised
in the Rig-Veda. We seem to see caste in the making.[7] The
Rishis and priests of the princely families were on their way to
becoming the all-powerful Brahmans. The kings and princes were on
their way to becoming the caste of Kshatriyas or warriors. The
mass of the people was soon to sink into the caste of Vaisyas and
broken men. Non-Aryan aborigines and others were possibly
developing into the caste of Sudras. Thus the spirit of division
and of ceremonialism had still some of its conquests to achieve.
But the extraordinary attention given and the immense importance
assigned to the details of sacrifice, and the supernatural efficacy
constantly attributed to a sort of magical asceticism (tapas,
austere fervour), prove that the worst and most foolish elements of
later Indian society and thought were in the Vedic age already in
powerful existence.

[1] Les Religions de l'Inde, p. 27.

[2] ix. 112.

[3] Ludwig, Rig-Veda, iii. 203. The burgs were fortified with
wooden palisades, capable of being destroyed by fire. "Cities" may
be too magnificent a word for what perhaps were more like pahs.
But compare Kaegi, The Rig-Veda, note 42, Engl. transl. Kaegi's
book (translated by Dr. Arrowsmith, Boston, U.S., 1886) is probably
the best short manual of the subject.

[4] Deut. xxv. 5; Matt. xxii. 24.

[5] Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, i. 245.

[6] Ludwig, iii. 262.

[7] On this subject see Muir, i. 192, with the remarks of Haug.
"From all we know, the real origin of caste seems to go back to a
time anterior to the composition of the Vedic hymns, though its
development into a regular system with insurmountable barriers can
be referred only to the later period of the Vedic times." Roth
approaches the subject from the word brahm, that is, prayer with a
mystical efficacy, as his starting-point. From brahm, prayer, came
brahma, he who pronounces the prayers and performs the rite. This
celebrant developed into a priest, whom to entertain brought
blessings on kings. This domestic chaplaincy (conferring peculiar
and even supernatural benefits) became hereditary in families, and
these, united by common interests, exalted themselves into the
Brahman caste. But in the Vedic age gifts of prayer and poetry
alone marked out the purohitas, or men put forward to mediate
between gods and mortals. Compare Ludwig, iii. 221.

Thus it is self-evident that the society in which the Vedic poets
lived was so far from being PRIMITIVE that it was even superior to
the higher barbarisms (such as that of the Scythians of Herodotus
and Germans of Tacitus), and might be regarded as safely arrived at
the threshold of civilisation. Society possessed kings, though
they may have been kings of small communities, like those who
warred with Joshua or fought under the walls of Thebes or Troy.
Poets were better paid than they seem to have been at the courts of
Homer or are at the present time. For the tribal festivals special
priests were appointed, "who distinguished themselves by their
comprehensive knowledge of the requisite rites and by their
learning, and amongst whom a sort of rivalry is gradually
developed, according as one tribe or another is supposed to have
more or less prospered by its sacrifices".[1] In the family
marriage is sacred, and traces of polyandry and of the levirate,
surviving as late as the epic poems, were regarded as things that
need to be explained away. Perhaps the most barbaric feature in
Vedic society, the most singular relic of a distant past, is the
survival, even in a modified and symbolic form, of human

[1] Weber, p. 37.

[2] Wilson, Rig-Veda, i. p. 59-63; Muir, i. ii.; Wilson, Rig-Veda
i. p. xxiv., ii. 8 (ii. 90); Aitareya Brahmana, Haug's version,
vol. ii. pp. 462, 469.

As to the religious condition of the Vedic Aryans, we must steadily
remember that in the Vedas we have the views of the Rishis only,
that is, of sacred poets on their way to becoming a sacred caste.
Necessarily they no more represent the POPULAR creeds than the
psalmists and prophets, with their lofty monotheistic morality,
represent the popular creeds of Israel. The faith of the Rishis,
as will be shown later, like that of the psalmists, has a noble
moral aspect. Yet certain elements of this higher creed are
already found in the faiths of the lowest savages. The Rishis
probably did not actually INVENT them. Consciousness of sin, of
imperfection in the sight of divine beings, has been developed (as
it has even in Australia) and is often confessed. But on the whole
the religion of the Rishis is practical--it might almost be said,
is magical. They desire temporal blessings, rain, sunshine, long
life, power, wealth in flocks and herds. The whole purpose of the
sacrifices which occupy so much of their time and thought is to
obtain these good things. The sacrifice and the sacrificer come
between gods and men. On the man's side is faith, munificence, a
compelling force of prayer and of intentness of will. The
sacrifice invigorates the gods to do the will of the sacrificer; it
is supposed to be mystically celebrated in heaven as well as on
earth--the gods are always sacrificing. Often (as when rain is
wanted) the sacrifice imitates the end which it is desirable to
gain.[1] In all these matters a minute ritual is already observed.
The mystic word brahma, in the sense of hymn or prayer of a
compelling and magical efficacy, has already come into use. The
brahma answers almost to the Maori karakia or incantation and
charm. "This brahma of Visvamitra protects the tribe of Bharata."
"Atri with the fourth prayer discovered the sun concealed by unholy
darkness."[2] The complicated ritual, in which prayer and
sacrifice were supposed to exert a constraining influence on the
supernatural powers, already existed, Haug thinks, in the time of
the chief Rishis or hymnists of the Rig-Veda.[3]

[1] Compare "The Prayers of Savages" in J. A. Farrer's Primitive
Manners, and Ludwig, iii. 262-296, and see Bergaigne, La Religion
Vedique, vol. i. p. 121.

[2] See texts in Muir, i. 242.

[3] Preface to translation of Aitareya Brahmana, p. 36.

In many respects the nature of the idea of the divine, as
entertained by the Rishis of the Rig-Veda, is still matter for
discussion. In the chapter on Vedic gods such particulars as can
be ascertained will be given. Roughly speaking, the religion is
mainly, though not wholly, a cult of departmental gods, originally,
in certain cases, forces of Nature, but endowed with moral
earnestness. As to fetishism in the Vedas the opinions of the
learned are divided. M. Bergaigne[1] looks on the whole ritual as,
practically, an organised fetishism, employed to influence gods of
a far higher and purer character. Mr. Max Muller remarks, "that
stones, bones, shells, herbs and all the other so-called fetishes,
are simply absent in the old hymns, though they appear in more
modern hymns, particularly those of the Atharva-Veda. When
artificial objects are mentioned and celebrated in the Rig-Veda,
they are only such as might be praised even by Wordsworth or
Tennyson--chariots, bows, quivers, axes, drums, sacrificial vessels
and similar objects. They never assume any individual character;
they are simply mentioned as useful or precious, it may be as

[1] La Religion Vedique, vol. i. p. 123. "Le culte est assimilable
dans une certaine mesure aux incantations, aux pratiques magiques."

[2] Hibbert Lectures, p. 198.

When the existence of fetish "herbs" is denied by Mr. Max Muller,
he does not, of course, forget Soma, that divine juice. It is also
to be noted that in modern India, as Mr. Max Muller himself
observes, Sir Alfred Lyall finds that "the husbandman prays to his
plough and the fisher to his net," these objects being, at present,
fetishes. In opposition to Mr. Max Muller, Barth avers that the
same kind of fetishism which flourishes to-day flourishes in the
Rig-Veda. "Mountains, rivers, springs, trees, herbs are invoked as
so many powers. The beasts which live with man--the horse, the
cow, the dog, the bird and the animals which imperil his existence--
receive a cult of praise and prayer. Among the instruments of
ritual, some objects are more than things consecrated--they are
divinities; and the war-chariot, the weapons of defence and
offence, the plough, are the objects not only of benedictions but
of prayers."[1] These absolute contradictions on matters of fact
add, of course, to the difficulty of understanding the early Indo-
Aryan religion. One authority says that the Vedic people were
fetish-worshippers; another authority denies it.

[1] Barth, Les Religions de l'Inde, p. 7, with the Vedic texts.

Were the Rishis ancestor-worshippers? Barth has no doubt whatever
that they were. In the pitris or fathers he recognises ancestral
spirits, now "companions of the gods, and gods themselves. At
their head appear the earliest celebrants of the sacrifice,
Atharvan, the Angiras, the Kavis (the pitris, par excellence)
equals of the greatest gods, spirits who, BY DINT OF SACRIFICE,
drew forth the world from chaos, gave birth to the sun and lighted
the stars,"--cosmical feats which, as we have seen, are sometimes
attributed by the lower races to their idealised mythic ancestors,
the "old, old ones" of Australians and Ovahereroes.

A few examples of invocations of the ancestral spirits may not be
out of place.[1] "May the Fathers protect me in my invocation of
the gods." Here is a curious case, especially when we remember how
the wolf, in the North American myth, scattered the stars like
spangles over the sky: "The fathers have adorned the sky with

[1] Rig-Veda, vi. 52,4.

[2] Ibid., x. 68, xi.

Mr. Whitney (Oriental and Linguistic Studies, First Series, p. 59)
gives examples of the ceremony of feeding the Aryan ghosts. "The
fathers are supposed to assemble, upon due invocation, about the
altar of him who would pay them homage, to seat themselves upon the
straw or matting spread for each of the guests invited, and to
partake of the offerings set before them." The food seems chiefly
to consist of rice, sesame and honey.

Important as is the element of ancestor-worship in the evolution of
religion, Mr. Max Muller, in his Hibbert Lectures, merely remarks
that thoughts and feelings about the dead "supplied some of the
earliest and most important elements of religion"; but how these
earliest elements affect his system does not appear. On a general
view, then, the religion of the Vedic poets contained a vast number
of elements in solution--elements such as meet us in every quarter
of the globe. The belief in ancestral ghosts, the adoration of
fetishes, the devotion to a moral ideal, contemplated in the
persons of various deities, some of whom at least have been, and
partly remain, personal natural forces, are all mingled, and all
are drifting towards a kind of pantheism, in which, while
everything is divine, and gods are reckoned by millions, the
worshipper has glimpses of one single divine essence. The ritual,
as we have seen, is more or less magical in character. The general
elements of the beliefs are found, in various proportions,
everywhere; the pantheistic mysticism is almost peculiar to India.
It is, perhaps, needless to repeat that a faith so very composite,
and already so strongly differentiated, cannot possibly be
"primitive," and that the beliefs and practices of a race so highly
organised in society and so well equipped in material civilisation
as the Vedic Aryans cannot possibly be "near the beginning". Far
from expecting to find in the Veda the primitive myths of the
Aryans, we must remember that myth had already, when these hymns
were sung, become obnoxious to the religious sentiment. "Thus,"
writes Barth, "the authors of the hymns have expurgated, or at
least left in the shade, a vast number of legends older than their
time; such, for example, as the identity of soma with the moon, as
the account of the divine families, of the parricide of Indra, and
a long list might be made of the reticences of the Veda. . . . It
would be difficult to extract from the hymns a chapter on the loves
of the gods. The goddesses are veiled, the adventures of the gods
are scarcely touched on in passing. . . . We must allow for the
moral delicacy of the singers, and for their dislike of speaking
too precisely about the gods. Sometimes it seems as if their chief
object was to avoid plain speaking. . . . But often there is
nothing save jargon and indolence of mind in this voluntary
obscurity, for already in the Veda the Indian intellect is deeply
smitten with its inveterate malady of affecting mystery the more,
the more it has nothing to conceal; the mania for scattering
symbols which symbolise no reality, and for sporting with riddles
which it is not worth while to divine."[1] Barth, however, also
recognises amidst these confusions, "the inquietude of a heart
deeply stirred, which seeks truth and redemption in prayer". Such

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