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THE CHILD AND CHILDHOOD IN FOLK-THOUGHT
STUDIES OF THE ACTIVITIES AND INFLUENCES OF
THE CHILD AMONG PRIMITIVE PEOPLES, THEIR
ANALOGUES AND SURVIVALS IN THE
CIVILIZATION OF TO-DAY
THE CHILD AND CHILDHOOD
(THE CHILD IN PRIMITIVE CULTURE)
ALEXANDER FRANCIS CHAMBERLAIN
HIS FATHER AND HIS MOTHER
Dedicates this Book
"Vom Vater hab' ich die Statur,
Des Lebens ernstes Fuhren;
Vom Mutterchen die Frohnatur
Und Lust zu fabulieren."--_Goethe_.
The present volume is an elaboration and amplification of lectures on
"The Child in Folk-Thought," delivered by the writer at the summer
school held at Clark University in 1894. In connection with the
interesting topic of "Child-Study" which now engages so much the
attention of teachers and parents, an attempt is here made to indicate
some of the chief child-activities among primitive peoples and to point
out in some respects their survivals in the social institutions and
culture-movements of to-day. The point of view to be kept in mind is the
child and what he has done, or is said to have done, in all ages and
among all races of men.
For all statements and citations references are given, and the writer
has made every effort to place himself in the position of those whose
opinion he records,--receiving and reporting without distortion or
He begs to return to his colleagues in the University, especially to its
distinguished president, the _genius_ of the movement for
"Child-Study" in America, and to the members of the summer school of
1894, whose kind appreciation of his efforts has mainly led to the
publication of this work, his sincerest gratitude for the sympathy and
encouragement which they have so often exhibited and expressed with
regard to the present and allied subjects of study and investigation in
the field of Anthropology, pedagogical and psychological.
A. F. CHAMBERLAIN
WORCESTER, Mass., April, 1895.
II. THE CHILD'S TRIBUTE TO THE MOTHER
III. THE CHILD'S TRIBUTE TO THE MOTHER (Continued)
IV. THE CHILD'S TRIBUTE TO THE FATHER
V. THE NAME CHILD
VI. THE CHILD IN THE PRIMITIVE LABORATORY
VII. THE BRIGHT SIDE OF CHILD-LIFE: PARENTAL AFFECTION
VIII. CHILDHOOD THE GOLDEN AGE
IX. CHILDREN'S FOOD
X. CHILDREN'S SOULS
XI. CHILDREN'S FLOWERS, PLANTS, AND TREES
XII. CHILDREN'S ANIMALS, BIRDS, ETC.
XIII. CHILD-LIFE AND EDUCATION IN GENERAL
XIV. THE CHILD AS MEMBER AND BUILDER OF SOCIETY
XV. THE CHILD AS LINGUIST
XVI. THE CHILD AS ACTOR AND INVENTOR
XVII. THE CHILD AS POET AND MUSICIAN
XVIII. THE CHILD AS TEACHER AND WISEACRE
XIX. THE CHILD AS JUDGE
XX. THE CHILD AS ORACLE-KEEPER AND ORACLE-INTERPRETER
XXI. THE CHILD AS WEATHER-MAKER
XXII. THE CHILD AS HEALER AND PHYSICIAN
XXIII. THE CHILD AS SHAMAN AND PRIEST
XXIV. THE CHILD AS HERO, ADVENTURER, ETC.
XXV. THE CHILD AS FETICH AND DIVINITY
XXVI. THE CHILD AS GOD: THE CHRIST-CHILD
XXVII. PROVERBS, SAYINGS, ETC., ABOUT PARENTS, FATHER AND MOTHER
XXVIII. PROVERBS, SAYINGS, ETC., ABOUT THE CHILD, MANKIND, GENIUS
XXIX. PROVERBS, SAYINGS, ETC., ABOUT MOTHER AND CHILD
XXX. PROVERBS, SAYINGS, ETC., ABOUT FATHER AND CHILD
XXXI. PROVERBS, SAYINGS, ETC., ABOUT CHILDHOOD, YOUTH, AND AGE
XXXII. PROVERBS, SAYINGS, ETC., ABOUT THE CHILD AND CHILDHOOD
INDEX TO PROVERBS
SUBJECT-INDEX TO SECTION A OF BIBLIOGRAPHY
SUBJECT-INDEX TO SECTION B OF BIBLIOGRAPHY
INDEX II.--PLACES, PEOPLES, TRIBES, LANGUAGES
Oneness with Nature is the glory of Childhood;
oneness with Childhood is the
glory of the Teacher.--_G. Stanley Hall_.
Homes ont l'estre comme metaulx,
Vie et augment des vegetaulx,
Instinct et sens comme les bruts,
Esprit comme anges en attributs.
[Man has as attributes: Being like metals,
Life and growth like plants,
Instinct and sense like animals,
Mind like angels.]--_Jehan de Meung_.
The Child is Father of the Man.--_Wordsworth_.
And he [Jesus] called to him a little child, and set him in the midst
of them.--_Matthew_ xviii. 2.
It was an Oriental poet who sang:--
"On parent knees, a naked, new-born child,
Weeping thou sat'st, while all around thee smiled;
So live, that, sinking in thy last, long sleep,
Calm thou mayst smile, while all around thee weep,"
and not so very long ago even the anthropologist seemed satisfied with
the approximation of childhood and old age,--one glance at the babe in
the cradle, one look at the graybeard on his deathbed, gave all the
knowledge desired or sought for. Man, big, burly, healthy, omniscient,
was the subject of all investigation. But now a change has come over the
face of things. As did that great teacher of old, so, in our day, has
one of the ministers of science "called to him a little child and set
him in the midst of them,"--greatest in the kingdom of anthropology is
assuredly that little child, as we were told centuries ago, by the
prophet of Galilee, that he is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The
child, together with woman, who, in so many respects in which the
essential human characteristics are concerned, so much resembles him, is
now beyond doubt the most prominent figure in individual, as well as in
racial, anthropology. Dr. D. G. Brinton, in an appreciative notice of
the recent volume on _Man and Woman_, by Havelock Ellis, in which
the secondary sexual differences between the male and the female
portions of the human race are so well set forth and discussed, remarks:
"The child, the infant in fact, alone possesses in their fulness 'the
chief distinctive characters of humanity. The highest human types, as
represented in men of genius, present a striking approximation to the
child-type. In man, from about the third year onward, further growth is
to some extent growth in degeneration and senility.' Hence the true
tendency of the progressive evolution of the race is to become
child-like, to become feminine." (_Psych. Rev._ I. 533.)
As Dr. Brinton notes, in this sense women are leading evolution--Goethe
was right: _Das Ewig-weibliche zieht uns hinan_. But here belongs
also the child-human, and he was right in very truth who said: "A little
child shall lead them." What new meaning flashes into the words of the
Christ, who, after declaring that "the kingdom of God cometh not with
observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the
kingdom of God is within you," in rebuke of the Pharisees, in rebuke of
his own disciples, "called to him a little child and set him in the
midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and
become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of
heaven." Even physically, the key to the kingdom of heaven lies in
Vast indeed is now the province of him who studies the child. In
Somatology,--the science of the physical characteristics and
constitution of the body and its members,--he seeks not alone to observe
the state and condition of the skeleton and its integuments during life,
but also to ascertain their nature and character in the period of
prenatal existence, as well as when causes natural, or unnatural,
disease, the exhaustion of old age, violence, or the like, have induced
the dissolution of death.
In Linguistics and Philology, he endeavours to discover the essence and
import of those manifold, inarticulate, or unintelligible sounds, which,
with the long flight of time, develop into the splendidly rounded
periods of a Webster or a Gladstone, or swell nobly in the rhythmic
beauties of a Swinburne or a Tennyson.
In Art and Technology, he would fain fathom the depths of those rude
scribblings and quaint efforts at delineation, whence, in the course of
ages, have been evolved the wonders of the alphabet and the marvellous
creations of a Rubens and an Angelo.
In Psychology, he seeks to trace, in childish prattlings and lore of the
nursery, the far-off beginnings of mythology, philosophy, religion.
Beside the stories told to children in explanation of the birth of a
sister or a brother, and the children's own imaginings concerning the
little new-comer, he may place the speculations of sages and theologians
of all races and of all ages concerning birth, death, immortality, and
the future life, which, growing with the centuries, have ripened into
the rich and wholesome dogmas of the church.
Ethnology, with its broad sweep over ages and races of men, its
searchings into the origins of nations and of civilizations, illumined
by the light of Evolution, suggests that in the growth of the child from
helpless infancy to adolescence, and through the strong and trying
development of manhood to the idiosyncrasies of disease and senescence,
we have an epitome in miniature of the life of the race; that in
primitive tribes, and in those members of our civilized communities,
whose growth upward and onward has been retarded by inherited tendencies
which it has been out of their power to overcome, or by a _milieu_
and environment, the control and subjugation of which required faculties
and abilities they did not possess, we see, as it were, ethnic children;
that in the nursery, the asylum, the jail, the mountain fastnesses of
earth, or the desert plains, peopled by races whose ways are not our
ways, whose criteria of culture are far below ours, we have a panorama
of what has transpired since, alone and face to face with a new
existence, the first human beings partook of the fruit of the tree of
knowledge and became conscious of the great gulf, which, after
millenniums of struggle and fierce competition, had opened between the
new, intelligent, speaking anthropoids and their fellows who straggled
so far behind.
Wordsworth has said: "The child is father of the man," and a German
writer has expanded the same thought:--
"Die Kindheit von heute
Ist die Menschheit von morgen,
Die Kindheit von heute
Ist die Menschheit von gestern."
["The childhood of to-day
Is the manhood of to-morrow,
The childhood of to-day
Is the manhood of yesterday."]
In brief, the child is father of the man and brother of the race.
In all ages, and with every people, the arcana of life and death, the
mysteries of birth, childhood, puberty, adolescence, maidenhood,
womanhood, manhood, motherhood, fatherhood, have called forth the
profoundest thought and speculation. From the contemplation of these
strange phenomena sprang the esoteric doctrines of Egypt and the East,
with their horrible accompaniments of vice and depravity; the same
thoughts, low and terrible, hovered before the devotees of Moloch and
Cybele, when Carthage sent her innocent boys to the furnace, a sacrifice
to the king of gods, and Asia Minor offered up the virginity of her
fairest daughters to the first-comer at the altars of the earth-mother.
Purified and ennobled by long centuries of development and unfolding,
the blossoming of such conceptions is seen in the great sacrifice which
the Son of Man made for the children of men, and in the cardinal
doctrine of the religion which he founded,--"Ye must be born
again,"--the regeneration, which alone gave entrance into Paradise.
The Golden Age of the past of which, through the long lapse of years,
dreamers have dreamt and poets sung, and the Golden City, glimpses of
whose glorious portal have flashed through the prayers and meditations
of the rapt enthusiast, seem but one in their foundation, as the Eden of
the world's beginning and the heaven that shall open to men's eyes, when
time shall be no more, are but closely allied phases, nay, but one and
the same phase, rather, of the world-old thought,--the ethnic might have
been, the ought to be of all the ages. The imagined, retrospect
childhood of the past is twin-born with the ideal, prospective childhood
of the world to come. Here the savage and the philosopher, the child and
the genius, meet; the wisdom of the first and of the last century of
human existence is at one. Childhood is the mirror in which these
reflections are cast,--the childhood of the race is depicted with the
same colours as the childhood of the individual. We can read a larger
thought into the words of Hartley Coleridge:--
"Oh what a wilderness were this sad world,
If man were always man, and never child."
Besides the anthropometric and psycho-physical investigations of the
child carried on in the scientific laboratory with exact instruments and
unexceptionable methods, there is another field of "Child-Study" well
worthy our attention for the light it can shed upon some of the dark
places in the wide expanse of pedagogical science and the art of
Its laboratory of research has been the whole wide world, the
experimenters and recorders the primitive peoples of all races and all
centuries,--fathers and mothers whom the wonderland of parenthood
encompassed and entranced; the subjects, the children of all the
generations of mankind.
The consideration of "The Child in Folk-Thought,"--what tribe upon
tribe, age after age, has thought about, ascribed to, dreamt of, learned
from, taught to, the child, the parent-lore of the human race, in its
development through savagery and barbarism to civilization and
culture,--can bring to the harvest of pedagogy many a golden sheaf.
The works of Dr. Ploss, _Das kleine Kind_, _Das Kind_, and
_Das Weib_, encyclopadic in character as the two last are, covering
a vast field of research relating to the anatomy, physiology, hygiene,
dietetics, and ceremonial treatment of child and mother, of girl and
boy, all over the world, and forming a huge mine of information
concerning child-birth, motherhood, sex-phenomena, and the like, have
still left some aspects of the anthropology of childhood practically
untouched. In English, the child has, as yet, found no chronicler and
historian such as Ploss. The object of the present writer is to treat of
the child from a point of view hitherto entirely neglected, to exhibit
what the world owes to childhood and the motherhood and the fatherhood
which it occasions, to indicate the position of the child in the march
of civilization among the various races of men, and to estimate the
influence which the child-idea and its accompaniments have had upon
sociology, mythology, religion, language; for the touch of the child is
upon them all, and the debt of humanity to the little children has not
yet been told. They have figured in the world's history and its
folk-lore as _magi_ and "medicine-men," as priests and
oracle-keepers, as physicians and healers, as teachers and judges, as
saints, heroes, discoverers, and inventors, as musicians and poets,
actors and labourers in many fields of human activity, have been
compared to the foolish and to the most wise, have been looked upon as
fetiches and as gods, as the fit sacrifice to offended Heaven, and as
the saviours and regenerators of mankind. The history of the child in
human society and of the human ideas and institutions which have sprung
from its consideration can have here only a beginning. This book is
written in full sympathy with the thought expressed in the words of the
Latin poet Juvenal: _Maxima debetur pueris reverentia_, and in the
declaration of Jean Paul: "I love God and every little child."
THE CHILD'S TRIBUTE TO THE MOTHER.
A good mother is worth a hundred schoolmasters.--_English Proverb_.
The first poet, the first priest, was the first mother.
The first empire was a woman and her children.--_O. T. Mason_.
When society, under the guidance of the "fathers of the church," went
almost to destruction in the dark ages, it was the "mothers of the
people" who saved it and set it going on the new right path.
The story of civilization is the story of the mother.
One mother is more venerable than a thousand fathers.
--_Laws of Manu_.
If the world were put into one scale, and my mother into the other, the
world would kick the beam.--_Lord Langdale_.
_Names of the Mother_.
In _A Song of Life_,--a book in which the topic of sex is treated
with such delicate skill,--occurs this sentence: "The motherhood of
mammalian life is the most sacred thing in physical existence" (120.
92), and Professor Drummond closes his _Lowell Institute Lectures on
the Evolution of Man_ in the following words: "It is a fact to which
too little significance has been given, that the whole work of organic
nature culminates in the making of Mothers--that the animal series end
with a group which even the naturalist has been forced to call the
_Mammalia_. When the savage mother awoke to her first tenderness, a
new creative hand was at work in the world" (36. 240). Said Henry Ward
Beecher: "When God thought of Mother, he must have laughed with
satisfaction, and framed it quickly,--so rich, so deep, so divine, so
full of soul, power, and beauty, was the conception," and it was unto
babes and sucklings that this wisdom was first revealed. From their lips
first fell the sound which parents of later ages consecrated and
preserved to all time. With motherhood came into the world song,
religion, the thought of immortality itself; and the mother and the
child, in the course of the ages, invented and preserved most of the
arts and the graces of human life and human culture. In language,
especially, the mother and the child have exercised a vast influence. In
the names for "mother," the various races have recognized the debt they
owe to her who is the "fashioner" of the child, its "nourisher" and its
"nurse." An examination of the etymologies of the words for "mother" in
all known languages is obviously impossible, for the last speakers and
interpreters of many of the unwritten tongues of the earth are long
since dead and gone. How primitive man--the first man of the
race--called his mother, we can but surmise. Still, a number of
interesting facts are known, and some of these follow.
The word _mother_ is one of the oldest in the language; one of the
very few words found among all the great branches of the widely
scattered Aryan race, bearing witness, in ages far remote, before the
Celt, the Teuton, the Hellene, the Latin, the Slav, and the Indo-Iranian
were known, to the existence of the family, with the _mother_
occupying a high and honourable place, if not indeed the highest place
of all. What the etymological meaning was, of the primitive Aryan word
from which our _mother_ is descended, is uncertain. It seems,
however, to be a noun derived, with the agent-suffix _-t-r_, from
the root _ma_, "to measure." Skeat thinks the word meant originally
"manager, regulator [of the household]," rejecting, as unsupported by
sufficient evidence, a suggested interpretation as the "producer."
Kluge, the German lexicographer, hesitates between the "apportioner,
measurer," and the "former [of the embryo in the womb]." In the language
of the Klamath Indians of Oregon, _p'gishap_, "mother," really
signifies the "maker."
The Karankawas of Texas called "mother," _kaninma_, the "suckler,"
from _kanin_, "the female breast." In Latin _mamma_, seems to
signify "teat, breast," as well as "mother," but Skeat doubts whether
there are not two distinct words here. In Finnish and some other
primitive languages a similar resemblance or identity exists between the
words for "breast" and "mother." In Lithuanian, _mote_--cognate
with our _mother_--signifies "wife," and in the language of the
Caddo Indians of Louisiana and Texas _sassin_ means both "wife" and
"mother." The familiar "mother" of the New England farmer of the "Old
Homestead" type, presents, perhaps, a relic of the same thought. The
word _dame_, in older English, from being a title of respect for
women--there is a close analogy in the history of _sire_--came to
signify "mother." Chaucer translates the French of the _Romaunt of the
Rose_, "Enfant qui craint ni pere ni mere Ne pent que bien ne le
comperre," by "For who that dredeth sire ne dame Shall it abie in bodie
or name," and Shakespeare makes poor Caliban declare: "I never saw a
woman, But only Sycorax, my dam." Nowadays, the word _dam_ is
applied only to the female parent of animals, horses especially. The
word, which is one with the honourable appellation _dame_, goes
back to the Latin _domina_, "mistress, lady," the feminine of
_dominus_, "lord, master." In not a few languages, the words for
"father" and "mother" are derived from the same root, or one from the
other, by simple phonetic change. Thus, in the Sandeh language of
Central Africa, "mother" is _n-amu_, "father," _b-amu_; in the
Cholona of South America, _pa_ is "father," _pa-n_, "mother";
in the PEntlate of British Columbia, "father" is _maa_, "mother,"
_taa_, while in the Songish _man_ is "father" and _tan_
"mother" (404. 143).
Certain tongues have different words for "mother," according as it is a
male or a female who speaks. Thus in the Okanak.en, a Salish dialect of
British Columbia, a man or a boy says for "mother," _sk'oi_, a
woman or a girl, _tom_; in Kalispelm the corresponding terms for
"my mother" are _isk'oi_ and _intoop_. This distinction,
however, seems not to be so common as in the case of "father."
In a number of languages the words for "mother" are different when the
latter is addressed and when she is spoken of or referred to. Thus in
the Kwakiutl, Nootka, and Catloltq, three British Columbia tongues, the
two words for "mother" are respectively _at_, _abouk_;
_at_, _abEmp_; _nikH_, _tan_. It is to be noted,
apparently, that the word used in address is very often simpler, more
primitive, than the other. Even in English we find something similar in
the use of _ma_ (or _mama_) and _mother_.
In the Gothic alone, of all the great Teutonic dialects,--the language
into which Bishop Wulfila translated the Scriptures in the fourth
century,--the cognate equivalent of our English _mother_ does not
appear. The Gothic term is _aithiei,_ evidently related to
_atta,_ "father," and belonging to the great series of nursery
words, of which our own _ma, mama,_ are typical examples. These are
either relics of the first articulations of the child and the race,
transmitted by hereditary adaptation from generation to generation, or
are the coinages of mother and nurse in imitation of the cries of
These simple words are legion in number and are found over the whole
inhabited earth,--in the wigwam of the Redskin, in the tent of the nomad
Bedouin, in the homes of cultured Europeans and Americans. Dr. Buschmann
studied these "nature-sounds," as he called them, and found that they
are chiefly variations and combinations of the syllables _ab, ap, am,
an, ad, at, ba, pa, ma, na, da, ta,_ etc., and that in one language,
not absolutely unrelated to another, the same sound will be used to
denote the "mother" that in the second signifies "father," thus
evidencing the applicability of these words, in the earliest stages of
their existence, to either, or to both, of the parents of the child
(166. 85). Pott, while remarking a wonderful resemblance in the names
for parents all over the world, seeks to establish the rather doubtful
thesis that there is a decided difference in the nature of the words for
"father" and those for "mother," the former being "man-like, stronger,"
the latter "woman-like, mild" (517. 57).
Some languages apparently do not possess a single specialized word for
"mother." The Hawaiian, for example, calls "mother and the sisters of
the mother" _makua wahine,_ "female parent," that being the nearest
equivalent of our "mother," while in Tonga, as indeed with us to-day,
sometimes the same term is applied to a real mother and to an adopted
one (100. 389). In Japan, the paternal aunt and the maternal aunt are
called "little mother." Similar terms and appellations are found in
other primitive tongues. A somewhat extended discussion of names for
"mother," and the questions connected with the subject, will be found in
Westermarck (166. 85). Here also will be found notices of the names
among various peoples for the nearest relatives of the mother and
father. Incidentally it is worth noting that Westermarck controverts
Professor Vambery's opinion that the Turko-Tartar words for "mother,"
_ana_, _ene_, originally meant "nurse" or "woman" (from the
root _an_, _en_), holding that exactly the reverse is the
fact, "the terms for _mother_ being the primitive words." He is
also inclined to think that the Aryan roots _pa_, "to protect, to
nourish," and _ma_, "to fashion," came from _pa_, "father,"
and _ma_, "mother," and not _vice versa_. Mr. Bridges, the
missionary who has studied so well the Yahgans of Tierra del Fuego,
states that "the names _imu_ and _dabi_--father and
mother--have no meaning apart from their application, neither have any
of their other very definite and ample list of terms for relatives,
except the terms _macu_ [cf. _magu_, "parturition"] and
_macipa_ [cf. _cipa_, "female"], son and daughter." This
statement is, however, too sweeping perhaps (166. 88).
According to Colonel Mallery, the Ute Indians indicate "mother" by
placing the index finger in the mouth (497a. 479). Clark describes the
common Indian sign as follows: "Bring partially curved and compressed
right hand, and strike with two or three gentle taps right or left
breast, and make sign for _female_; though in conversation the
latter is seldom necessary. Deaf mutes make sign for _female_, and
cross hands as in their sign for _baby_, and move them to front and
upwards" (420. 262). Somewhat similar is the sign for "father": "Bring
the compressed right hand, back nearly outwards, in front of right or
left breast, tips of fingers few inches from it; move the hand, mostly
by wrist action, and gently tap the breast with tips of fingers two or
three times, then make sign for _male_. Some Indians tap right
breast for 'father,' and left for 'mother.' Deaf-mutes make sign for
_male_, and then holding hands fixed as in their sign for
_baby_, but a little higher, move the hands to front and upwards"
Interesting is the following statement of Mr. Codrington, the well-known
missionary to the Melanesians:--
"In Mota the word used for 'mother' is the same that is used for the
division [tribe?] _veve_, with a plural sign _ra veve_. And it
is not that a man's kindred are so called after his mother, but that his
mother is called his kindred, as if she were the representative of the
division to which he belongs; as if he were not the child of a
particular woman, but of the whole kindred for whom she brought him into
the world." Moreover, at Mota, in like fashion, "the word for 'consort,'
'husband,' or 'wife,' is in a plural form _ra soai_, the word used
for members of a body, or the component parts of a canoe" (25. 307-8).
Since the appearance of Bachofen's famous book on the matriarchate,
"mother-right," that system of society in which the mother is paramount
in the family and the line of inheritance passes through her, has
received much attention from students of sociology and primitive
Post thus defines the system of mother-right:--
"The matriarchate is a system of relationship according to which the
child is related only to his mother and to the persons connected with
him through the female line, while he is looked upon as not related to
his father and the persons connected with him through the male line.
According to this system, therefore, the narrowest family circle
consists not, as with us to-day, of father, mother, and child, but of
mother, mother's brother, and sister's child, whilst the father is
completely wanting, and the mother's brother takes the father's place
with the sister's children. The real father is not the father of his own
children, but of his nephews and nieces, whilst the brother of his wife
is looked upon as father to his children. The brothers and sisters of
the mother form with her a social group, to which belong also the
children of the sisters, the children of the daughters of the sisters,
etc., but not the children of the brothers, the children of the sisters'
sons, etc. With every husband the relationship ceases" (127. I. 13-14).
The system of mother-right prevails widely over the whole globe; in some
places, however, only in fragmentary condition. It is found amongst
nearly all the native tribes of America; the peoples of Malaysia,
Melanesia, Australia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, the Dravidian tribes of
India; in Africa it is found in the eastern Sahara, the Soudan, the east
and west coast, and in the centre of the continent, but not to the
exclusion, altogether, of father-right, while in the north the intrusion
of Europeans and the followers of Islam has tended to suppress it.
Traces of its former existence are discovered among certain of the
ancient tribes of Asia Minor, the old Egyptians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans,
Teutons, the Aryans of India, the Chinese, Japanese, etc.
Mother-right has been recognized by many sociologists as a system of
family relationship, perhaps the most widespread, perhaps the most
primitive of all. Dr. Brinton says:--
"The foundation of the gentile system, as of any other family life, is
... the mutual affection between kindred. In the primitive period this
is especially between children of the same mother, not so much because
of the doubt of paternity, as because physiologically and obviously, it
is the mother in whom is formed, and from whom alone proceeds, the
living being" (412. 47).
Professor O. T. Mason, in the course of his interesting address on
"Woman's Share in Primitive Culture," remarks (112. 10):--
"Such sociologists as Morgan and McLennan affirm that the primitive
society had no family organization at all. They hypothecate a condition
in which utter promiscuity prevailed. I see no necessity for this. There
is some organization among insects. Birds mate and rear a little family.
Many animals set up a kind of patriarchal horde. On the other hand, they
err greatly who look among savages for such permanent home life as we
enjoy. Marriages are in groups, children are the sons and daughters of
these groups; divorces are common. The fathers of the children are not
known, and if they were, they would have no authority on that account.
The mother never changes her name, the children are named after her, or,
at least, are not named after the father. The system of gentes prevails,
each gens consisting of a hypothetical female ancestress, and all her
descendants through females. These primitive men and women, having no
other resort, hit upon this device to hold a band of kin together. Here
was the first social tie on earth; the beginning of the state. The first
empire was a woman and her children, regardless of paternity. This was
the beginning of all the social bonds which unite us. Among our own
Indians mother-right was nearly universal. Upon the death of a chief
whose office was hereditary, he was succeeded, not by his son, but by
the son of a sister, or an aunt, or a niece; all his property that was
not buried with him fell to the same parties, could not descend to his
children, since a child and the father belonged to different gentes."
McLennan has discussed at some length the subject of kinship in ancient
Greece (115. 193-246), and maintains that "the system of double kinship,
which prevailed in the time of Homer, was preceded by a system of
kinship through females only," referring to the cases of Lycaon,
Tlepolemus, Helen, Arnaeus, Glaucus, and Sarpedon, besides the evidence
in the _Orestes_ of Euripides, and the _Eumenides_ of
Aeschylus. In the last, "the jury are equally divided on the plea [that
Orestes was not of kin to his mother, Clytemnestra, whom he had killed,
--"Do you call _me_ related by blood to my mother?"], and Orestes
gains his cause by the casting vote of Athene." According to tradition,
"in Greece, before the time of Cecrops, children always bore the name of
their mothers," in marked contrast to tha state of affairs in Sparta,
where, according to Philo, "the marriage tie was so loose that men lent
their wives to one another, and cared little by whom children were
begotten, provided they turned out strong and healthy."
We have preserved for us, by Plutarch and others, some of the opinions
of Greek philosophers on the relation of the father and the mother to
the child. Plato is represented as calling "mind the conception, idea,
model, and _father_; and matter the mother, _nurse_, or seat
and region capable of births." Chrysippus is said to have stated: "The
foetus is nourished in the womb like a plant; but, being born, is
refrigerated and hardened by the air, and its spirit being changed it
becomes an animal," a view which, as McLennan points out, "constitutes
the mother the mere nurse of her child, just as a field is of the seed
sown in it."
The view of Apollo, which, in the council of the gods, influenced Athene
to decide for Orestes, is this:--
"The bearer of the so-called offspring is not _the mother_ of it,
but only the nurse of the newly conceived foetus. It is the male who is
the author of its being; while she, as a stranger, for a stranger,
preserves the young plant for those for whom the god has not blighted it
in the bud. And I will show you a proof of this assertion; one
_may_ become a father without a mother. There stands by a witness
of this in the daughter of Olympian Zeus, who was not even nursed [much
less engendered or begotten] in the darkness of the womb" (115. 211).
"This is akin to the wild discussion in the misogynistic Middle Ages
about the possibility of _lucina sine concubitu_. The most recent
and most scholarly discussion of all questions involved in
"mother-right" will be found people in the world; for it stands on
record that the five companies (five hundred men) recruited from the
Iroquois of New York and Canada during our civil war stood first on the
list among all the recruits of our army for height, vigour, and
corporeal symmetry" (412. 82). And it was this people too who produced
Hiawatha, a philosophic legislator and reformer, worthy to rank with
Solon and Lycurgus, and the founder of a great league whose object was
to put an end to war, and unite all the nations in one bond of
brotherhood and peace.
Among the Choctaw-Muskogee tribes, women-chiefs were also known; the
Yuchis, Chetimachas, had "Queens"; occasionally we find female rulers
elsewhere in America, as among the Winnebagos, the Nah-ane, etc.
Scattered examples of gynocracy are to be found in other parts of the
world, and in their later development some of the Aryan races have been
rather partial to women as monarchs, and striking instances of a like
predilection are to be met with among the Semitic tribes,--Boadicea,
Dido, Semiramis, Deborah are well-known cases in point, to say nothing
of the Christian era and its more enlightened treatment of woman.
The fate of women among those peoples and in those ages where extreme
exaltation of the male has been the rule, is sketched by Letourneau in
his chapter on _The Condition of Women_ (100. 173-185); the
contrast between the Australians, to whom "woman is a domestic animal,
useful for the purposes of genesic pleasure, for reproduction, and, in
case of famine, for food," the Chinese, who can say "a newly-married
woman ought to be merely as a shadow and as an echo in the house," the
primitive Hindus, who forbade the wife to call her husband by name, but
made her term him "master, lord," or even "god," and even some of our
modern races in the eye of whose law women are still minors, and the
Iroquois, is remarkable. Such great differences in the position and
rights of women, existing through centuries, over wide areas of the
globe, have made the study of comparative pedagogy a most important
branch of human sociology. The mother as teacher has not been, and is
not now, the same the world over.
As men holding supreme power have been termed "father," women have in
like manner been called "mother." The title of the queen-mother in
Ashanti is _nana,_ "Grandmother" (438. 259), and to some of the
Indian tribes of Canada Queen Victoria is the "Great White Mother," the
"Great Mother across the Sea." In Ashanti the "rich, prosperous, and
powerful" are termed _oman enna,_ "mothers of the tribe," and are
expected to make suitably large offerings to the dead, else there will
be no child born in the neglectful family for a certain period (438.
With the Romans, _mater_ and its derivative _matrona,_ came to
be applied as titles of honour; and beside the rites of the
_parentalia_ we find those of the _matronalia_ (492. 454).
In the ancient Hebrew chronicles we find mention of Deborah, that
"mother in Israel."
With us, off whose tongues "the fathers," "forefathers," "ancestors"
(hardly including ancestresses) and the like rolled so glibly, the
"Pilgrim Fathers" were glorified long before the "Pilgrim Mothers," and
hardly yet has the mother of the "father of his country" received the
just remembrance and recognition belonging to her who bore so noble and
so illustrious a son. By and by, however, it is to be hoped, we shall be
free from the reproach cast upon us by Colonel Higginson, and wake up to
the full consciousness that the great men of our land have had mothers,
and proceed to re-write our biographical dictionaries and encyclopadias
In Latin _mater,_ as does _mother_ with us, possessed a wide
extent of meaning, "mother, parent, producer, nurse, preparer, cause,
origin, source," etc. _Mater omnium artium necessitas,_ "Necessity
is the mother of invention," and similar phrases were in common use, as
they are also in the languages of to-day. Connected with _mater_ is
_materia,_ "matter,"--_mother_-stuff, perhaps,--and from it
is derived _matrimonium,_ which testifies concerning primitive
Roman sociology, in which the mother-idea must have been prominent,
something we cannot say of our word _marriage,_ derived ultimately
from the Latin _mas,_ "a male."
Westermarck notes the Nicaraguans, Dyaks, Minahassers, Andaman
Islanders, Padam, Munda Kols, Santals, Moors of the Western Soudan,
Tuaregs, Teda, among the more or less primitive peoples with whom woman
is held in considerable respect, and sometimes, as among the Munda Kols,
bears the proud title "mistress of the house" (166. 500, 501). As
Havelock Ellis remarks, women have shown themselves the equals of men as
rulers, and most beneficial results have flowed from their exercise of
the great political wisdom, and adaptation to statecraft which seems to
belong especially to the female sex. The household has been a
training-school for women in the more extended spheres of human
The college graduate fondly calls the institution from which he has
obtained his degree _Alma Mater_, "nourishing, fostering,
cherishing mother," and he is her _alumnus_ (foster-child,
nourished one). For long years the family of the benign and gracious
mother, whose wisdom was lavished upon her children, consisted of sons
alone, but now, with the advent of "sweeter manners, purer laws,"
daughters have come to her also, and the _alumnae_, "the sweet
girl-graduates in their golden hair," share in the best gifts their
parent can bestow. To Earth also, the term _Alma Mater_ has been
applied, and the great nourishing mother of all was indeed the first
teacher of man, the first university of the race.
_Alma, alumnus, alumna_, are all derived from _alo_, "I
nourish, support." From the radical _al_, following various trains
of thought, have come: _alesco_, "I grow up"; _coalesco_, "I
grow together"; _adolesco_, "I grow up,"--whence _adolescent_,
etc.; _obsolesco_, "I wear out"; _alimentum_, "food";
_alimonium_, "support"; _altor, altrix_, "nourisher";
_altus_, "high, deep" (literally, "grown"); _elementum_,
"first principle," etc. Connected With _adolesco_ is
_adultus_, whence our _adult_, with the radical of which the
English word _old_ (_eld_) is cognate. From the root
_al_, "to grow, to make to grow, to nourish," spring also the Latin
words _proles_, "offspring," _suboles_, "offspring, sprout,"
_indoles_, "inborn or native quality."
The familiar expression "every mother's son of us" finds kin in the
Modern High German _Muttersohn, Mutterkind_, which, with the even
more significant _Muttermensch_ (human being), takes us back to the
days of "mother-right." Rather different, however, is the idea called up
by the corresponding Middle Low German _modersone_, which means
"bastard, illegitimate child."
_Lore of Motherhood_
A synonym of _Muttermensch_ is _Mutterseele_, for soul and man
once meant pretty much, the same. The curious expression
_mutterseelenallein_, "quite alone; alone by one's self," is given
a peculiar interpretation by Lippert, who sees in it a relic of the
burial of the dead (soul) beneath the hearth, threshold, or floor of the
house; "wessen Mutter im Hause ruht, der kann daheim immer nur mit
seiner Mutterseele selbander allein sein." Or, perhaps, it goes back to
the time when, as with the Seminoles of Florida, the babe was held over
the mouth of the mother, whose death resulted from its birth, in order
that her departing spirit might enter the new being.
In German, the "mother-feeling" makes its influence felt in the
nomenclature of the lower brute creation. As contrasted with our English
female donkey (she-donkey), mare, ewe, ewe-lamb, sow, doe-hare (female
hare), queen-bee, etc., we find _Mutteresel_, "mother-donkey ";
_Mutterpferd_, "mother-horse"; _Mutterschaf_, "mother-sheep";
_Mutterlamm_, "mother lamb"; _Mutterschwein_, "mother swine";
_Mutterhase_, "mother-hare"; _Mutterbiene_, "mother-bee."
Nor is this feeling absent from the names of plants and things
inanimate. We have _Mutterbirke_, "birch"; _Mutterblume_,
"seed-flower"; _Mutternelke_, "carnation"; _Mutternagelein_
(our "mother-clove"); _Mutterholz_. In English we have "mother of
thyme," etc. In Japan a triple arrangement in the display of the
flower-vase--a floral trinity--is termed _chichi_, "father";
_haha_, "mother"; _ten_, "heaven" (189. 74).
In the nursery-lore of all peoples, as we can see from the fairy-tales
and child-stories in our own and other languages, this attribution of
motherhood to all things animate and inanimate is common, as it is in
the folk-lore and mythology of the adult members of primitive races now
The arts of poetry, music, dancing, according to classic mythology, were
presided over by nine goddesses, or Muses, daughters of Mnemosyne,
goddess of memory, "Muse-mother," as Mrs. Browning terms her. The
history of woman as a poet has yet to be written, but to her in the
early ages poetry owed much of its development and its beauty. Mr. Vance
has remarked that "among many of the lowest races the only love-dances
in vogue are those performed by the women" (545a. 4069). And Letourneau
considers that "there are good grounds for supposing that women may have
especially participated in the creation of the lyric of the erotic
kind." Professor Mason, in the course of his remarks upon woman's labour
in the world in all ages, says (112. 12):--
"The idea of a _maker_, or creator-of-all-things found no congenial
soil in the minds of savage men, who manufactured nothing. But, as the
first potters, weavers, house-builders were women, the idea of a divine
creator as a moulder, designer, and architect originated with her, or
was suggested by her. The three Fates, Clotho, who spins the thread of
life; Lachesis, who fixes its prolongation; and Atropos, who cuts this
thread with remorseless shears, are necessarily derived from woman's
work. The mother-goddess of all peoples, culminating in the apotheosis
of the Virgin Mary, is an idea, either originated by women, or devised
to satisfy their spiritual cravings."
And we have, besides the goddesses of all mythologies, personifying
woman's devotion, beauty, love. What shall we say of that art, highest
of all human accomplishments, in the exercise of which men have become
almost as gods? The old Greeks called the singer [Greek: poiaetaes],
"maker," and perhaps from woman the first poets learned how to worship
in noble fashion that great _maker_ of all, whose poem is the
universe. Religion and poetry have ever gone hand in hand; Plato was
right when he said: "I am persuaded, somehow, that good poets are the
inspired interpreters of the gods." Of song, as of religion, it may
perhaps be said: _Dux foemina facti_.
To the mother beside the cradle where lies her tender offspring, song is
as natural as speech itself to man. Lullabies are found in every land;
everywhere the joyous mother-heart bursts forth into song. The German
proverb is significant: "Wer ein saugendes Kind hat, der hat eine
singende Frau," and Fischer, a quaint poet of the sixteenth century, has
beautifully expressed a like idea:--
"Wo Honig ist, da sammlen sieb die Fliegen, Wo Kinder sind, da singt man
um die Wiegen."
Ploss, in whose book is to be found a choice collection of lullabies
from all over the globe, remarks: "The folk-poetry of all peoples is
rich in songs whose texts and melodies the tender mother herself
imagined and composed" (326. II. 128).
The Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco devotes an interesting chapter of her
_Essays in the Study of Folk-Song_ to the subject of lullabies. But
not cradle-songs alone have sprung from woman's genius. The world over,
dirges and funeral-laments have received their poetical form from the
mother. As name-giver, too, in many lands, the mother exercised this
side of her imaginative faculty. The mother and the child, from whom
language received its chief inspiration, were also the callers forth of
its choicest and most creative form.
"An ounce o' mother-wit is worth a pound o' clergy," says the Scotch
proverb, and the "mother-wit," _Muttergeist_ and _Mutterwitz_,
that instructive common-sense, that saving light that make the genius
and even the fool, in the midst of his folly, wise, appear in folk-lore
and folk-speech everywhere. What the statistics of genius seem to show
that great men owe to their mothers, no less than fools, is summed up by
the folk-mind in the word _mother-wit_. Jean Paul says: "Die Mutter
geben uns von Geiste Warme und die Vater Licht," and Goethe, in a
familiar passage in his _Autobiography_, declares:--
"Vom Vater hab'ich die Statur,
Des Lebens ernstes Fuhren;
Vom Mutterchen die Frobnatur,
Und Lust zu fabulieren."
Shakespeare makes Petruchio tell the shrewish Katherine that his "goodly
speech" is "_extempore_ from my mother-wit," and Emerson calls
"mother-wit," the "cure for false theology." Quite appropriately
Spenser, in the _Faerie Queene_, speaks of "all that Nature by her
mother-wit could frame in earth." It is worth noting that when the
ancient Greeks came to name the soul, they personified it in Psyche, a
beautiful female, and that the word for "soul" is feminine in many
Among the Teton Indians, according to the Rev. J. Owen Dorsey, the
following peculiar custom exists: "Prior to the naming of the infant is
the ceremony of the transfer of character; should the infant be a boy, a
brave and good-tempered man, chosen beforehand, takes the infant in his
arms and breathes into his mouth, thereby communicating his own
disposition to the infant, who will grow up to be a brave and
good-natured man. It is thought that such an infant will not cry as much
as infants that have not been thus favoured. Should the infant be a
girl, it is put into the arms of a good woman, who breathes into its
mouth" (433. 482).
Here we have _father_-wit as well as _mother_-wit.
Where women have no voice whatever in public affairs, and are
subordinated to the uttermost in social and family matters, little that
is honourable and noble is named for them. In East Central Africa, a Yao
woman, asked if the child she is carrying is a boy or a girl, frequently
replies: "My child is of the sex that does not speak" (518. XLIII. 249),
and with other peoples in higher stages of culture, the "silent woman"
lingers yet. _Taceat mulier in ecclesia_ still rings in our ears
to-day, as it has rung for untold centuries. Though the poet has said:--
"There is a sight all hearts beguiling--
A youthful mother to her infant smiling,
Who, with spread arms and dancing feet,
And cooing voice, returns its answer sweet,"
and mothers alone have understood the first babblings of humanity, they
have waited long to be remembered in the worthiest name of the language
they have taught their offspring.
The term _mother-tongue_, although Middle English had
"birthe-tonge," in the sense of native speech, is not old in our
language; the _Century Dictionary_ gives no examples of its early
use. Even immortal Shakespeare does not know it, for, in _King Richard
II._, he makes Mowbray say:--
"The language I have learned these forty years
(My native English) now must I forego."
The German version of the passage has, however, _mein mutterliches
Cowper, in the _Task_, does use "mother-tongue," in the connection
To fill the ambition of a private man,
That Chatham's language was his mother-tongue."
_Mother-tongue_ has now become part and parcel of our common
speech; a good word, and a noble one.
In Modern High German, the corresponding _Mutterzunge_, found in
Sebastian Franck (sixteenth century) has gradually given way to
_Muttersprache_, a word whose history is full of interest. In
Germany, as in Europe generally, the esteem in which Latin was held in
the Middle Ages and the centuries immediately following them, forbade
almost entirely the birth or extension of praiseworthy and endearing
names for the speech of the common people of the country. So long as men
spoke of "hiding the beauties of Latin in homely German words," and a
Bacon could think of writing his chief work in Latin, in order that he
might be remembered after his death, it were vain to expect aught else.
Hence, it does not surprise us to learn that the word
_Muttersprache_ is not many centuries old in German. Dr. Lubben,
who has studied its history, says it is not to be found in Old High
German or Middle High German (or Middle Low German), and does not appear
even in Luther's works, though, judging from a certain passage in his
_Table Talk_, it was perhaps known to him. It was only in the
seventeenth century that the word became quite common. Weigand states
that it was already in the _Dictionarium latino-germanicum_
(Zurich, 1556), and in Maaler's _Die Teutsch Spraach_ (Zurich,
1561), in which latter work (S. 262 a) we meet with the expressions
_vernacula lingua_, _patrius sermo_, _landspraach_,
_muoterliche spraach_, and _muoterspraach_ (S. 295 c). Opitz
(1624) uses the word, and it is found in Schottel's _Teutsche
Haupt-Sprache_ (Braunschweig, 1663). Apparently the earliest known
citation is the Low German _modersprake_, found in the introduction
of Dietrich Engelhus' (of Einbeck) _Deutsche Chronik_ (1424).
Nowadays _Muttersprache_ is found everywhere in the German
book-language, but Dr. Lubben, in 1881, declared that he had never heard
it from the mouth of the Low German folk, with whom the word was always
_lantsprake, gemene sprake_. Hence, although the word has been
immortalized by Klaus Groth, the Low German Burns, in the first poem of
"Min Modersprak, so slicht un recht,
Du ole frame Red!
Wenn blot en Mund 'min Vader' seggt,
So klingt mi't as en Bed,"
and by Johann Meyer, in his _Ditmarscher Gedichte:_--
"Vaderhus un Modersprak!
Lat mi't nom'n un lat mi't rop'n;
Vaderhus, du belli Sted,
Modersprak, da frame Red,
Schonres klingt der Nix tohopen,"
it may be that _modersprak_ is not entirely a word of Low German
origin; beautiful though it is, this dialect, so closely akin to our own
English, did not directly give it birth. Nor do the corresponding terms
in the other Teutonic dialects,--Dutch _moederspraak, moedertaal_,
Swedish _modersmal_, etc.,--seem more original. The Romance
languages, however, offer a clue. In French, _langue mere_ is a
purely scientific term of recent origin, denoting the root-language of a
number of dialects, or of a "family of speech," and does not appear as
the equivalent of _Muttersprache_. The equivalents of the latter
are: French, _langue maternelle_; Spanish, _lengua materna_;
Italian, _lingua materna_, etc., all of which are modifications or
imitations of a Low Latin _lingua materna_, or _lingua
maternalis_. The Latin of the classic period seems not to have
possessed this term, the locutions in use being _sermo noster, patrius
sermo_, etc. The Greek had [Greek: _ae egchorios glossa ae idia
glossa,_] etc. Direct translations are met with in the _moderlike
sprake_ of Daniel von Soest, of Westphalia (sixteenth century), and
the _muoterliche spraach_ of Maaler (1561). It is from an Italian-
Latin source that Dr. Lubben supposes that the German prototypes of
_modersprak_ and _Muttersprache_ arose. In the _Bok der
Byen_, a semi-Low German translation (fifteenth century) of the
_Liber Apium_ of Thomas of Chantimpre, occurs the word
_modertale_ in the passage "Christus sede to er [the Samaritan
woman] mit sachte stemme in erre modertale." A municipal book of
Treuenbrietzen informs us that in the year 1361 it was resolved to write
in the _ydeoma maternale_--what the equivalent of this was in the
common speech is not stated--and in the _Relatio_ of Hesso, we find
the term _materna lingua_ (105 a).
The various dialects have some variants of _Muttersprache_, and in
Gottingen we meet with _moimen spraken_, where _moime_
(cognate with Modern High German _Muhme_, "aunt"), signifies
"mother," and is a child-word.
From the _mother-tongue_ to the _mother-land_ is but a step.
As the speech she taught her babe bears the mother's name, so does also
the land her toil won from the wilderness.
As we say in English most commonly "native city," so also we say "native
land." Even Byron sings:--
"Adieu, adieu I my native shore
Fades o'er the waters blue;
* * * * *
My native land--good night!"
and Fitz-Greene Halleck, in his patriotic poem "Marco Bozzaris," bids
strike "For God, and your native land."
Scott's far-famed lines:--
"Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself has said,
This is my own, my native land!"
and Smith's national hymn, "My country,'tis of thee," know no
In the great _Century Dictionary_, the only illustration cited of
the use of the word _mother-land_ is a very recent one, from the
_Century Magazine_ (vol. xxix. p. 507).
Shakespeare, however, comes very near it, when, in _King John_
(V. ii.), he makes the Bastard speak of "your dear Mother-England,"
--but this is not quite "mother-land."
In German, though, through the sterner influences which surrounded the
Empire in its birth and reorganization, _Vaterland_ is now the
word, _Mutterland_ was used by Kant, Wieland, Goethe, Herder,
Uhland, etc. Lippert suggests an ingenious explanation of the origin of
the terms _Mutterland_, _Vaterland_, as well as for the
predominance of the latter and younger word. If, in primitive times, man
alone could hold property,--women even and children were his
chattels,--yet the development of agriculture and horticulture at the
hands of woman created, as it were, a new species of property, property
in land, the result of woman's toil and labour; and this new property,
in days when "mother-right" prevailed, came to be called
_Mutterland_, as it was essentially "mothers' land." But when men
began to go forth to war, and to conquer and acquire land that was not
"mothers' land," a new species of landed property,--the "land of the
conquering father,"--came into existence (and with it a new theory of
succession, "father-right"), and from that time forward "Vaterland" has
extended its signification, until it has attained the meaning which it
possesses in the German speech of to-day (492. 33, 36).
The inhabitants of the British colonies scattered all over the world
speak of Britain as the "mother country," "Mother England"; and R. H.
Stoddard, the American poet, calls her "our Mother's Mother." The French
of Canada term France over-sea "la mere patrie" (mother fatherland).
Even Livy, the Roman historian, wrote _terra quam matrem
appellamus_,--"the land we call mother,"--and Virgil speaks of
Apollo's native Delos as _Delum maternum_. But for all this, the
proud Roman called his native land, not after his mother, but after his
father, _patria_; so also in corresponding terms the Greek, [Greek:
_patris_], etc. But the latter remembered his mother also, as the
word _metropolis_, which we have inherited, shows. [Greek:
_Maetropolis_] had the meanings: "mother-state" (whence
daughter-colonies went forth); "a chief city, a capital, metropolis;
one's mother-city, or mother-country." In English, _metropolis_ has
been associated with "mother-church," for a _metropolis_ or a
_metropolitan_ city, was long one which was the seat of a
Among the ancient Greeks the Cretans were remarkable for saying not
[Greek: _patris_] (father-land), but [Greek: _maetris_]
(mother-land), by which name also the Messenians called their native
land. Some light upon the loss of "mother-words" in ancient Greece may
be shed from the legend which tells that when the question came whether
the new town was to be named after Athene or Poseidon, all the women
voted for the former, carrying the day by a single vote, whereupon
Poseidon, in anger, sent a flood, and the men, determining to punish
their wives, deprived them of the power of voting, and decided that
thereafter children were not to be named after their mothers (115. 235).
In Gothic, we meet with a curious term for "native land, home,"
_gabaurths_ (from _gabairan_ "to bear"), which signifies also
"birth." As an exemplification of the idea in the Sophoclean phrase
"all-nourishing earth," we find that at an earlier stage in the history
of our own English tongue _erd_ (cognate with our _earth_)
signified "native land," a remembrance of that view of savage and
uncivilized peoples in which _earth, land_ are "native country,"
for these are, in the true sense of the term, _Landesleute,
In the language of the Hervey Islands, in the South Pacific, "the place
in which the placenta of an infant is buried is called the
_ipukarea_, or _native soil_" (459. 26).
Our English language seems still to prefer "native city, native town,
native village," as well as "native land," "mother-city" usually
signifying an older town from which younger ones have come forth. In
German, though _Vaterstadt_ in analogy with _Vaterland_ seems
to be the favorite, _Mutterstadt_ is not unknown.
Besides _Mutterland_ and _Mutterstadt_, we find in German the
_Mutterboden_, "mother-land." Used by the poet Uhland.
_Muttergefilde_, "the fields of mother-earth." Used by Schlegel.
_Muttergrund_, "the earth," as productive of all things. Used by
_Mutterhimmel_, "the sky above one's native land." Used by the
_Mutterluft_, "the air of one's native land."
_Mutterhaus_, "the source, origin of anything." Uhland even has:--
"Hier ist des Stromes Mutterhaus,
Ich trink ihn frisch vom Stein heraus."
More far-reaching, diviner than "mother-land," is "mother-earth."
THE CHILD'S TRIBUTE TO THE MOTHER (_Continued_).
To the child its mother should be as God.--_G. Stanley Hall_.
A mother is the holiest thing alive.--_Coleridge_.
God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offence into everlasting
forgetfulness.--_Henry Ward Beecher_.
When the social world was written in terms of mother-right, the
religious world was expressed in terms of mother-god.
There is nothing more charming than to see a mother with a child in her
arms, and nothing more venerable than a mother among a number of her
"Earth, Mother of all," is a world-wide goddess. Professor O.T. Mason,
says: "The earth is the mother of all mankind. Out of her came they. Her
traits, attributes, characteristics, they have so thoroughly inherited
and imbibed, that, from any doctrinal point of view regarding the origin
of the species, the earth may be said to have been created for men, and
men to have been created out of the earth. By her nurture and tuition
they grow up and flourish, and, folded in her bosom, they sleep the
sleep of death. The idea of the earth-mother is in every cosmogony.
Nothing is more beautiful in the range of mythology than the conception
of Demeter with Persephone, impersonating the maternal earth, rejoicing
in the perpetual return of her daughter in spring, and mourning over her
departure in winter to Hades" (389 (1894). 140).
Dr. D.G. Brinton writes in the same strain (409. 238): "Out of the earth
rises life, to it it returns. She it is who guards all germs, nourishes
all beings. The Aztecs painted her as a woman with countless breasts;
the Peruvians called her '_Mama_ Allpa,' _mother_ Earth; in
the Algonkin tongue, the words for earth, mother, father, are from the
same root. _Homo, Adam, chamaigenes_, what do all these words mean
but earth-born, the son of the soil, repeated in the poetic language of
Attica in _anthropos_, he who springs up like a flower?"
Mr. W. J. McGee, treating of "Earth the Home of Man," says (502. 28):--
"In like manner, mankind, offspring of Mother Earth, cradled and nursed
through helpless infancy by things earthly, has been brought well
towards maturity; and, like the individual man, he is repaying the debt
unconsciously assumed at the birth of his kind, by transforming the face
of nature, by making all things better than they were before, by aiding
the good and destroying the bad among animals and plants, and by
protecting the aging earth from the ravages of time and failing
strength, even as the child protects his fleshly mother. Such are the
relations of earth and man."
The Roman babe had no right to live until the father lifted him up from
"mother-earth" upon which he lay; at the baptism of the ancient Mexican
child, the mother spoke thus: "Thou Sun, Father of all that live, and
thou Earth, our Mother, take ye this child and guard it as your son"
(529. 97); and among the Gypsies of northern Hungary, at a baptism, the
oldest woman present takes the child out, and, digging a circular trench
around the little one, whom she has placed upon the earth, utters the
following words: "Like this Earth, be thou strong and great, may thy
heart be free from care, be merry as a bird" (392 (1891). 20). All of
these practices have their analogues in other parts of the globe.
In another way, infanticide is connected with "mother-earth." In the
book of the "Wisdom of Solomon" (xiv. 23) we read: "They slew their
children in sacrifices." Infanticide--"murder most foul, as in the best
it is, but this most foul, strange, and unnatural"--has been sheltered
beneath the cloak of religion. The story is one of the darkest pages in
the history of man. A priestly legend of the Khonds of India attributes
to child-sacrifice a divine origin:--
"In the beginning was the Earth a formless mass of mud, and could not
have borne the dwelling of man, or even his weight; in this liquid and
ever-moving slime neither tree nor herb took root. Then God said: 'Spill
human blood before my face!' And they sacrificed a child before Him. ...
Falling upon the soil, the bloody drops stiffened and consolidated it."
But too well have the Khonds obeyed the command: "And by the virtues of
the blood shed, the seeds began to sprout, the plants to grow, the
animals to propagate. And God commanded that the Earth should be watered
with blood every new season, to keep her firm and solid. And this has
been done by every generation that has preceded us."
More than once "the mother, with her boys and girls, and perhaps even a
little child in her arms, were immolated together,"--for sometimes the
wretched children, instead of being immediately sacrificed, were allowed
to live until they had offspring whose sad fate was determined ere their
birth. In the work of Reclus may be read the fearful tale of the cult of
"Pennou, the terrible earth-deity, the bride of the great Sun-God" (523.
In Tonga the paleness of the moon is explained by the following legend:
Vatea (Day) and Tonga-iti (Night) each claimed the first-born of Papa
(Earth) as his own child. After they had quarrelled a great deal, the
infant was cut in two, and Vatea, the husband of Papa, "took the upper
part as his share, and forthwith squeezed it into a ball and tossed it
into the heavens, where it became the sun." But Tonga-iti, in sullen
humour, let his half remain on the ground for a day or two. Afterward,
however, "seeing the brightness of Vatea's half, he resolved to imitate
his example by compressing his share into a ball, and tossing it into
the dark sky during the absence of the sun in Avaiki, or netherworld."
It became the moon, which is so pale by reason of "the blood having all
drained out and decomposition having commenced," before Tonga-iti threw
his half up into the sky (458. 45). With other primitive peoples, too,
the gods were infanticidal, and many nations like those of Asia Minor,
who offered up the virginity of their daughters upon the altars of their
deities, hesitated not to slay upon their high places the first innocent
pledges of motherhood.
The earth-goddess appears again when the child enters upon manhood, for
at Brahman marriages in India, the bridegroom still says to the bride,
"I am the sky, thou art the earth, come let us marry" (421. 29).
And last of all, when the ineluctable struggle of death is over, man
returns to the "mother-earth"--dust to dust. One of the hymns of the
Rig-Veda has these beautiful words, forming part of the funeral
ceremonies of the old Hindus:--
"Approach thou now the lap of Earth, thy mother,
The wide-extending Earth, the ever-kindly;
A maiden soft as wool to him who comes with gifts,
She shall protect thee from destruction's bosom.
"Open thyself, O Earth, and press not heavily;
Be easy of access and of approach to him,
As mother with her robe her child,
So do thou cover him, O Earth!" (421. 31).
The study of the mortuary rites and customs of the primitive peoples of
all ages of the world's history (548) reveals many instances of the
belief that when men, "the common growth of mother-earth," at last rest
their heads upon her lap, they do not wholly die, for the immortality of
Earth is theirs. Whether they live again,--as little children are often
fabled to do,--when Earth laughs with flowers of spring, or become
incarnate in other members of the animate or inanimate creation, whose
kinship with man and with God is an article of the great folk-creed, or,
in the beautiful words of the burial service of the Episcopal Church,
sleep "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain
hope of the resurrection," all testifies that man is instinct with the
life that throbs in the bosom of Earth, his Mother. As of old, the story
ran that man grew into being from the dust, or sprang forth in god-like
majesty, so, when death has come, he sinks to dust again, or
triumphantly scales the lofty heights where dwell the immortal deities,
and becomes "as one of them."
With the idea of the earth-mother are connected the numerous myths of
the origin of the first human beings from clay, mould, etc., their
provenience from caves, holes in the ground, rocks and mountains,
especially those in which the woman is said to have been created first
(509. 110). Here belong also not a few ethnic names, for many primitive
peoples have seen fit to call themselves "sons of the soil, _terrae
Muller and Brinton have much to say of the American earth-goddesses,
_Toci_, "our mother," and goddess of childbirth among the ancient
Mexicans (509. 494); the Peruvian _Pachamama_, "mother-earth," the
mother of men (509. 369); the "earth-mother" of the Caribs, who through
earthquakes manifests her animation and cheerfulness to her children,
the Indians, who forthwith imitate her in joyous dances (509. 221); the
"mother-earth" of the Shawnees, of whom the Indian chief spoke, when he
was bidden to regard General Harrison as "Father": "No, the sun yonder
is my father, and the earth my mother; upon her bosom will I repose,"
etc. (509. 117).
Among the earth-goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome are Demeter, Ceres,
Tellus, Rhea, Terra, Ops, Cybele, Bona Dea, Bona Mater, Magna Mater,
Gaea, Ge, whose attributes and ceremonies are described in the books of
classical mythology. Many times they are termed "mother of the gods" and
"mother of men"; Cybele is sometimes represented as a woman advanced in
pregnancy or as a woman with many breasts; Rhea, or Cybele, as the
hill-enthroned protectress of cities, was styled _Mater turrita_.
The ancient Teutons had their _Hertha_, or _Erdemutter_, the
_Nertha_ of Tacitus, and fragments of the primitive earth-worship
linger yet among the folk of kindred stock. The Slavonic peoples had
their "earth-mother" also.
The ancient Indian Aryans worshipped Prithivi-matar, "earth-mother," and
Dyaus pitar, "sky-father," and in China, Yang, Sky, is regarded as the
"father of all things," while Yu, Earth, is the "mother of all things."
Among the ancient Egyptians the "earth-mother," the "parent of all
things born," was Isis, the wife of the great Osiris. The natal
ceremonies of the Indians of the Sia Pueblo have been described at great
length by Mrs. Stevenson (538. 132-143). Before the mother is delivered
of her child the priest repeats in a low tone the following prayer:--
"Here is the child's sand-bed. May the child have good thoughts and know
its mother-earth, the giver of food. May it have good thoughts and grow
from childhood to manhood. May the child be beautiful and happy. Here is
the child's bed; may the child be beautiful and happy. Ashes man, let me
make good medicine for the child. We will receive the child into our
arms, that it may be happy and contented. May it grow from childhood to
manhood. May it know its mother Ct'set [the first created woman], the
Ko'pishtaia, and its mother-earth. May the child have good thoughts and
grow from childhood to manhood. May it be beautiful and happy" (538.
On the fourth morning after the birth of the child, the doctress in
attendance, "stooping until she almost sits on the ground, bares the
child's head as she holds it toward the rising sun, and repeats a long
prayer, and, addressing the child, she says: 'I bring you to see your
Sun-father and Ko'pishtaia, that you may know them and they you'" (538.
Though we are now accustomed, by reason of their grandeur and sublimity,
to personify mountains as masculine, the old fable of Phadrus about the
"mountain in labour, that brought forth a mouse,"--as Horace has it,
_Montes laborabant et parturitur ridiculus mus_,--shows that
another concept was not unknown to the ancients. The Armenians call
Mount Ararat "Mother of the World" (500. 39), and the Spaniards speak of
a chief range of mountains as _Sierra Madre_. In mining we meet
with the "mother-lode," _veta, madre_, but, curiously enough, the
main shaft is called in German _Vaterschacht_.
We know that the Lapps and some other primitive peoples "transferred to
stones the domestic relations of father, mother, and child," or regarded
them as children of Mother-Earth (529. 64); "eggs of the earth" they are
called in the magic songs of the Finns. In Suffolk, England,
"conglomerate is called 'mother of stones,' under the idea that pebbles
are born of it"; in Germany _Mutterstein_. And in litholatry, in
various parts of the globe, we have ideas which spring from like
Milton speaks of the "wide womb of uncreate night," and some of the
ancient classical poets call _Nox_ "the mother of all things, of
gods as well as men." "The Night is Mother of the Day," says Whittier,
and the myth he revives is an old and wide-spread one. "Out of Night is
born day, as a child comes forth from the womb of his mother," said the
Greek and Roman of old. As Bachofen (6. 16, 219) remarks: "Das
Mutterthum verbindet sich mit der Idee der den Tag aus sich gebierenden
Nacht, wie das Vaterrecht dem Reiche des Lichts, dem von der Sonne mit
der Mutter Nacht gezeugten Tage." Darkness, Night, Earth, Motherhood,
seem all akin in the dim light of primitive philosophy. Yet night is not
always figured as a woman. James Ferguson, the Scotch poet, tells us how
"Auld Daddy Darkness creeps frae his hole,
Black as a blackamoor, blin' as a mole,"
and holds dominion over earth till "Wee Davie Daylicht comes keekin'
owre the hill" (230. 73).
An old Anglo-Saxon name for Christinas was _modra-neht,_ "mother's
In Sanskrit mythology Ushas, "Dawn," is daughter of Heaven, and
poetically she is represented as "a young wife awakening her children
and giving them new strength for the toils of the new day."
Sometimes she is termed _gavam ganitri,_ "the mother of the cows,"
which latter mythologists consider to be either "the clouds which pour
water on the fields, or the bright mornings which, like cows, are
supposed to step out one by one from the stable of the night" (510.
In an ancient Hindu hymn to Ushas we read:--
"She shines upon us like a young wife, rousing every living being to go
to his work. When the fire had to be kindled by men, she made the light
by striking down darkness.
"She rose up, spreading far and wide, and moving everywhere. She grew in
brightness, wearing her brilliant garment. The mother of the cows, the
leader of the days, she shone gold-coloured, lovely to behold" (421.
This daughter of the sky was the "lengthener of life, the love of all,
the giver of food, riches, blessings." According to Dr. Brinton, the
Quiche Indians of Guatemala speak of Xmucane and Xpiyacoc as being "the
great ancestress and the great ancestor" of all things. The former is
called _r'atit zih, r'atit zak,_ "primal mother of the sun and
light" (411. 119).
In Russia we meet with the days of the week as "mothers." Perhaps the
most remarkable of these is "Mother Friday," a curious product of the
mingling of Christian hagiology and Slavonic mythology, of St. Prascovia
and the goddess Siwa. On the day sacred to her, "Mother Friday" wanders
about the houses of the peasants, avenging herself on such as have been
so rash as to sew, spin, weave, etc., on a Friday (520. 206).
In a Wallachian tale appear three supernatural females,--the holy
mothers Friday, Wednesday, and Sunday,--who assist the hero in his quest
of the heroine, and in another Wallachian story they help a wife to find
her lost husband.
"Mother Sunday" is said "to rule the animal world, and can collect her
subjects by playing on a magic flute. She is represented as exercising
authority over both birds and beasts, and in a Slovak story she bestows
on the hero a magic horse" (520. 211). In Bulgaria we even find
mother-months, and Miss Garnett has given an account of the superstition
of "Mother March" among the women of that country (61.I. 330). William
Miller, the poet-laureate of the nursery, sings of _Lady Summer_:--
"Birdie, birdie, weet your whistle!
Sing a sang to please the wean;
Let it be o' Lady Summer
Walking wi' her gallant train!
Sing him how her gaucy mantle,
Forest-green, trails ower the lea,
Broider'd frae the dewy hem o't
Wi' the field flowers to the knee!
"How her foot's wi' daisies buskit,
Kirtle o' the primrose hue,
And her e'e sae like my laddie's,
Glancing, laughing, loving blue!
How we meet on hill and valley,
Children sweet as fairest flowers,
Buds and blossoms o' affection,
Rosy wi' the sunny hours" (230. 161).
In certain languages, as in Modern German, the word for "sun" is
feminine, and in mythology the orb of day often appears as a woman. The
German peasant was wont to address the sun and the moon familiarly as
"Frau Sonne" and "Herr Mond," and in a Russian folk-song a fair maiden
sings (520. 184):--
"My mother is the beauteous Sun,
And my father, the bright Moon;
My brothers are the many Stars,
And my sisters the white Dawns."
Jean Paul beautifully terms the sun "Sonne, du Mutterauge der Welt!" and
Holty sings: "Geh aus deinem Gezelt, Mutter des Tags hervor, und
vergulde die wache Welt"; in another passage the last writer thus
apostrophizes the sun: "Heil dir, Mutter des Lichts!" These terms
"mother-eye of the world," "mother of day," "mother of light," find
analogues in other tongues. The Andaman Islanders have their _chan-a
bo-do_, "mother-sun" (498. 96), and certain Indians of Brazil call
the sun _coaracy_, "mother of the day or earth." In their sacred
language the Dakota Indians speak of the sun as "grandmother" and the
moon as "grandfather." The Chiquito Indians "used to call the sun their
mother, and, at every eclipse of the sun, they would shoot their arrows
so as to wound it; they would let loose their dogs, who, they thought,
went instantly to devour the moon" (100. 289).
The Yuchi Indians called themselves "children of the sun." Dr. Gatschet
tells us: "The Yuchis believe themselves to be the offspring of the sun,
which they consider to be a female. According to one myth, a couple of
human beings were born from her monthly efflux, and from, these the
Yuchis afterward originated." Another myth of the same people says: "An
unknown mysterious being once came down upon the earth and met people
there who were the ancestors of the Yuchi Indians. To them this being
(_Hi'ki_, or _Ka'la hi'ki_) taught many of the arts of life,
and in matters of religion admonished them to call the sun their mother
as a matter of worship" (389 (1893). 280).
Shelley sings of
"That orbed maiden, with white fire laden,
Whom mortals call the moon,"
and in other languages besides Latin the word for moon is feminine, and
the lunar deity a female, often associated with childbirth. The
moon-goddesses of the Orient--Diana (Juno), Astarte, Anahita,
etc.--preside over the beginnings of human life. Not a few primitive
peoples have thought of the moon as mother. The ancient Peruvians
worshipped _Mama-Quilla_, "mother-moon," and the Hurons regarded
Ataensic, the mother or grandmother of Jouskeha, the sun, as the
"creatress of earth and man," as well as the goddess of death and of the
souls of the departed (509. 363). The Tarahumari Indians of the Sierra
of Chihuahua, Mexico, call the sun _au-nau-ru-a-mi_, "high father,"
and the moon, _je-ru-a-mi_, "high mother." The Tupi Indians of
Brazil term the moon _jacy_, "our mother," and the same name occurs
in the Omagua and other members of this linguistic stock. The Muzo
Indians believe that the sun is their father and the moon their mother
Horace calls the moon _siderum regina_, and Apuleius, _regina
coeli_, and Milton writes of
Heaven's queen and mother both."
Froebel's verses, "The Little Girl and the Stars," are stated to be
based upon the exclamation of the child when seeing two large stars
close together in the heavens, "Father-Mother-Star," and a further
instance of like nature is cited where the child applied the word
"mother" to the moon.
An ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, taught that the
world was created from fire, the omnipotent and omniscient essence, and
with many savage and barbaric peoples fire-worship has nourished or
still flourishes. The Indie Aryans of old produced fire by the method of
the twirling stick, and in their symbolism "the turning stick, Pramanta,
was the father of the god of fire; the immovable stick was the mother of
the adorable and luminous Agni [fire]"--a concept far-reaching in its
mystic and mythological relations (100. 564).
According to Mr. Gushing the Zuni Indians term fire the "Grandmother of
In their examination of the burial-places of the ancient Indian
population of the Salado River Valley in Arizona, the Hemenway Exploring
Expedition found that many children were buried near the kitchen
hearths. Mr. Cushing offers the following explanation of this custom,
which finds analogies in various parts of the world: "The matriarchal
grandmother, or matron of the household deities, is the fire. It is
considered the guardian, as it is also, being used for cooking, the
principal 'source of life' of the family. The little children being
considered unable to care for themselves, were placed, literally, under
the protection of the family fire that their soul-life might be
nourished, sustained, and increased" (501. 149). Boecler tells us that
the Esthonian bride "consecrates her new home and hearth by an offering
of money cast into the fire, or laid on the oven, for _Tule-ema_,
[the] Fire Mother" (545. II. 285). In a Mongolian wedding-song there is
an invocation of "Mother Ut, Queen of Fire," who is said to have come
forth "when heaven and earth divided," and to have issued "from the
footsteps of Mother-Earth." She is further said to have "a manly son,
a beauteous daughter-in-law, bright daughters" (484. 38).
The poet Homer and the philosopher Thales of Miletus agreed in regarding
water as the primal element, the original of all existences, and their
theory has supporters among many primitive peoples. At the baptism
festivals of their children, the ancient Mexicans recognized the goddess
of the waters. At sunrise the midwife addressed the child, saying, among
other things: "Be cleansed with thy mother, Chalchihuitlicue, the
goddess of water." Then, placing her dripping finger upon the child's
lips, she continued: "Take this, for on it thou must live, grow, become
strong, and flourish. Through it we receive all our needs. Take it."
And, again, "We are all in the hands of Chalchihuitlicue, our mother";
as she washed the child she uttered the formula: "Bad, whatever thou
art, depart, vanish, for the child lives anew and is born again; it is
once more cleansed, once more renewed through our mother
Chalchihuitlicue." As she lifted the child up into the air, she prayed,
"O Goddess, Mother of Water, fill this child with thy power and virtue"
(326. I. 263).
In their invocation for the restoration of the spirit to the body, the
Nagualists,--a native American mystic sect,--of Mexico and Central
America, make appeal to "Mother mine, whose robe is of precious gems,"
_i.e._ water, regarded as "the universal mother." The "robe of
precious stones" refers to "the green or vegetable life" resembling the
green of precious stones. Another of her names is the "Green Woman,"--a
term drawn from "the greenness which follows moisture" (413. 52-54).
The idea of water as the source of all things appears also in the
cosmology of the Indie Aryans. In one of the Vedic hymns it is stated
that water existed before even the gods came into being, and the
Rig-veda tells us that "the waters contained a germ from which
everything else sprang forth." This is plainly a myth of the motherhood
of the waters, for in the Brahmanas we are told that from the water
arose an egg, from which came forth after a year Pragapati, the creator
(510. 248). Variants of this myth of the cosmic egg are found in other
quarters of the globe.
The Chinchas of Peru looked upon the sea as the chief deity and the
mother of all things, and the Peruvians worshipped _Mama-Cocha_,
"mother sea" (509. 368), from which had come forth everything, even
animals, giants, and the Indians themselves. Associated with
_Mama-Cocha_ was the god _Vira-Cocha_, "sea-foam." In Peru
water was revered everywhere,--rivers and canals, fountains and
wells,--and many sacrifices were made to them, especially of certain
sea-shells which were thought to be "daughters of the sea, the mother of
all waters." The traditions of the Incas point to an origin from Lake
Titicaca, and other tribes fabled their descent from fountains and
streams (412. 204). Here belong, doubtless, some of the myths of the
sea-born deities of classical mythology as well as those of the
water-origin of the first of the human race, together with kindred
conceits of other primitive peoples.
In the Bengalese tale of "The Boy with the Moon on his Forehead,"
recorded by Day, the hero pleads: "O mother Ocean, please make way for
me, or else I die" (426. 250), and passes on in safety. The poet
Swinburne calls the sea "fair, white mother," "green-girdled mother,"
"great, sweet mother, mother and lover of men, the sea."
According to Russian legend "the Dnieper, Volga, and Dvina used once to
be living people. The Dnieper was a boy, and the Volga and Dvina his
sisters." The Russians call their great river "Mother Volga," and it is
said that, in the seventeenth century, a chief of the Don Cossacks,
inflamed with wine, sacrificed to the mighty stream a Persian princess,
accompanying his action with these words: "O Mother Volga, thou great
River! much hast thou given me of gold and of silver, and of all good
things; thou hast nursed me and nourished me, and covered me with glory
and honor. But I have in no way shown thee my gratitude. Here is
somewhat for thee; take it!" (520. 217-220).
In the Mahabharata, the great Sanskrit epic, King Santanu is said to
have walked by the side of the river one day, where "he met and fell in
love with a beautiful girl, who told him that she was the river Ganges,
and could only marry him on condition he never questioned her conduct.
To this he, with a truly royal gallantry, agreed; and she bore him
several children, all of whom she threw into the river as soon as they
were born. At last she bore him a boy, Bhishma; and her husband begged
her to spare his life, whereupon she instantly changed into the river
Ganges and flowed away" (258. 317). Similar folk-tales are to be met
with in other parts of the world, and the list of water-sprites and
river-goddesses is almost endless. Greater than "Mother Volga," is
"Mother Ganges," to whom countless sacrifices have been made. In the
language of the Caddo Indians, the Mississippi is called _bahat
sassin_, "mother of rivers."
The ancient Peruvians had their "Mother Maize," _Mama Cora_, which
they worshipped with a sort of harvest-home having, as Andrew Lang
points out, something in common with the children's last sheaf, in the
north-country (English and Scotch) "kernaby," as well as with the
"Demeter of the threshing-floor," of whom Theocritus speaks (484. 18).
An interesting legend of the Indians of the Pueblos of Arizona and New
Mexico is recorded by Muller (509. 60). Ages ago there dwelt on the
green plains a beautiful woman, who refused all wooers, though they
brought many precious gifts. It came to pass that the land was sore
distressed by dearth and famine, and when the people appealed to the
woman she gave them maize in plenty. One day, she lay asleep naked; a
rain-drop falling upon her breast, she conceived and bore a son, from
whom are descended the people who built the "Casas Grandes." Dr. Fewkes
cites a like myth of the Hopi or Tusayan Indians in which appears
_ko-kyan-wuq-ti_, "the spider woman," a character possessing
certain attributes of the Earth-Mother. Speaking of certain ceremonies
in which _Ca-li-ko_, the corn-goddess, figures, he calls attention
to the fact that "in initiations an ear of corn is given to the novice
as a symbolic representation of mother. The corn is the mother of all
initiated persons of the tribe" (389 (1894). 48).
Mr. Lummis also speaks of "Mother Corn" among the Pueblos Indians: "A
flawless ear of pure white corn (type of fertility and motherhood) is
decked out with a downy mass of snow-white feathers, and hung with
ornaments of silver, coral, and the precious turquoise" (302. 72).
Concerning the Pawnee Indians, Mr. Grinnell tells us that after the
separation of the peoples, the boy (medicine-man) who was with the few
who still remained at the place from which the others had departed,
going their different ways, found in the sacred bundle--the Shekinah of
the tribe--an ear of corn. To the people he said: "We are to live by
this, this is our Mother." And from "Mother Corn" the Indians learned
how to make bows and arrows. When these Indians separated into three
bands (according to the legend), the boy broke off the nub of the ear
and gave it to the Mandans, the big end he gave to the Pawnees, and the
middle to the Rees. This is why, at the present time, the Pawnees have
the best and largest corn, the Rees somewhat inferior, and the Mandans
the shortest of all--since they planted the pieces originally given them
(480 (1893). 125).
The old Mexicans had in Cinteotl a corn-goddess and deity of fertility
in whose honour even human sacrifices were made. She was looked upon as
"the producer," especially of children, and sometimes represented with a
child in her arms (509. 491).
In India there is a regular cult of the holy basil (_Ocymum
sanetum_), or _Tulasi_, as it is called, which appears to be a
transformation of the goddess Lakshmi. It may be gathered for pious
purposes only, and in so doing the following prayer is offered: "Mother
_Tulasi_, be thou propitious. If I gather thee with care, be
merciful unto me. O _Tulasi_, mother of the world, I beseech thee."
This plant is worshipped as a deity,--the wife of Vishnu, whom the
breaking of even a little twig grieves and torments,--and "the pious
Hindus invoke the divine herb for the protection of every part of the
body, for life and for death, and in every action of life; but above
all, in its capacity of ensuring children to those who desire to have
them." To him who thoughtlessly or wilfully pulls up the plant "no
happiness, no health, no children." The _Tulasi_ opens the gates of
heaven; hence on the breast of the pious dead is placed a leaf of basil,
and the Hindu "who has religiously planted and cultivated the
_Tulasi_, obtains the privilege of ascending to the palace of
Vishnu, surrounded by ten millions of parents" (448. 244).
In Denmark, there is a popular belief that in the elder
(_Sambucus_) there lives a spirit or being known as the
"elder-mother" (_hylde-moer_), or "elder-woman"
(_hilde-qvinde_), and before elder-branches may be cut this
petition is uttered: "Elder-mother, elder-mother, allow me to cut thy
branches." In Lower Saxony the peasant repeats, on bended knees, with
hands folded, three times the words: "Lady Elder, give me some of thy
wood; then will I also give thee some of mine, when it grows in the
forest" (448. 318-320). In Huntingdonshire, England, the belief in the
"elder-mother" is found, and it is thought dangerous to pluck the
flowers, while elder-wood, in a room, or used for a cradle, is apt to
work evil for children. In some parts of England, it is believed that
boys beaten with an elder stick will be retarded in their growth; in
Sweden, women who are about to become mothers kiss the elder. In
Germany, a somewhat similar personification of the juniper, "Frau
Wachholder," exists. And here we come into touch with the dryads and
forest-sprites of all ages, familiar to us in the myths of classic
antiquity and the tales of the nursery (448. 396).
In a Bengalese tale, the hero, on coming to a forest, cries: "O mother
_kachiri_, please make way for me, or else I die," and the wood
opens to let him pass through (426. 250).
Perhaps the best and sweetest story of plant mythology under this head
is Hans Christian Andersen's beautiful tale of "The Elder-Tree
Mother,"--the Dryad whose name is Remembrance (393. 215).
Our word _thumb_ signifies literally "thick or big finger," and the
same idea occurs in other languages. With not a few primitive peoples
this thought takes another turn, and, as in the speech of the
Karankawas, an extinct Indian tribe of Texas, "the _biggest_, or
_thickest_ finger is called '_father_, _mother_, or
_old_'" (456. 68). The Creek Indians of the Southeastern United
States term the "thumb" _ingi itchki_, "the hand its mother," and a
like meaning attaches to the Chickasaw _ilbak-ishke_, Hichiti
_ilb-iki_, while the Muskogees call the "thumb," the "mother of
fingers." It is worthy of note, that, in the Bakairi language of Brazil,
the thumb is called "father," and the little finger, "child," or "little
one" (536. 406). In Samoa the "thumb" is named _lima-matua_,
"forefather of the hand," and the "first finger" _lima-tama_,
"child of the hand." In the Tshi language of Western Africa a finger is
known as _ensah-tsia-abbah_, "little child of the hand," and in
some other tongues of savage or barbaric peoples "fingers" are simply
"children of the hand."
Professor Culin in his notes of "Palmistry in China and Japan," says:
"The thumb, called in Japanese, _oya-ubi_, 'parent-finger,' is for
parents. The little finger, called in Japanese, _ko-ubi_,
'child-finger,' is for children; the index-finger is for uncle, aunt,
and elder brother and elder sister. The third finger is for younger
brother and younger sister" (423a). A short little finger indicates
childlessness, and lines on the palm of the hand, below the little
finger, children. There are very many nursery-games and rhymes of
various sorts based upon the hand and fingers, and in not a few of these
the thumb and fingers play the _role_ of mother and children.
Froebel seized upon this thought to teach the child the idea of the
family. His verses are well-known:--
"Das ist die Groszmama,
Das ist der Groszpapa,
Das ist der Vater,
Das ist die Mutter,
Das ist's kleine Kindchen ja;
Seht die ganze Familie da.
Das ist die Mutter lieb und gut,
Das ist der Vater mit frohem Muth;
Das ist der Bruder lang und grosz;
Das ist die Schwester mit Puppchen im Schoosz;
Und dies ist das Kindchen, noch klein und zart,
Und dies die Familie von guter Art."
Referring to Froebel's games, Elizabeth Harrison remarks:--
"In order that this activity, generally first noticed in the use of the
hands, might be trained into right and ennobling habits, rather than be
allowed to degenerate into wrong and often degrading ones, Froebel
arranged his charming set of finger-games for the mother to teach her
babe while he is yet in her arms; thus establishing the right activity
before the wrong one can assert itself. In such little songs as the
'This is the mother, good and dear;
This the father, with hearty cheer;
This is the brother, stout and tall;
This is the sister, who plays with her doll;
And this is the baby, the pet of all.
Behold the good family, great and small,'
the child is led to personify his fingers and to regard them as a small
but united family over which he has control." (257 a. 14).
Miss Wiltse, who devotes a chapter of her little volume to "Finger-songs
related to Family Life and the Imaginative Faculty," says:--
"The dawning consciousness of the child so turned to the family
relations is surely better than the old nursery method of playing 'This
little pig went to market'" (384. 45).
And from the father and mother the step to God is easy.
Dr. Brewer informs us that in the Greek and Roman Church the Trinity is
symbolized by the thumb and first two fingers: "The thumb, being strong,
represents the _Father_; the long, or second finger, _Jesus
Christ_; and the first finger, the _Holy Ghost_, which
proceedeth from the Father and the Son" (_Dict. of Phrase and
Fable_, P. 299).
The "Motherhood of God" is an expression that still sounds somewhat
strangely to our ears. We have come to speak readily enough of the
"Fatherhood of God" and the "Brotherhood of Man," but only a still small
voice has whispered of the "Motherhood of God" and the "Sisterhood of
Woman." Yet there have been in the world, as, indeed, there are now,
multitudes to whom the idea of Heaven without a mother is as blank as
that of the home without her who makes it. If over the human babe bends
the human mother who is its divinity,--
"The infant lies in blessed ease
Upon his mother's breast;
No storm, no dark, the baby sees
Invade his heaven of rest.
He nothing knows of change or death--
Her face his holy skies;
The air he breathes, his mother's breath--
His stars, his mother's eyes,"--
so over the infant-race must bend the All-Mother, _das
Ewigweibliche._ Perhaps the greatest service that the Roman Catholic
Church has rendered to mankind is the prominence given in its cult of
the Virgin Mary to the mother-side of Deity. In the race's final concept
of God, the embodiment of all that is pure and holy, there must surely
be some overshadowing of a mother's tender love. With the "Father-Heart"
of the Almighty must be linked the "Mother-Soul." To some extent, at
least, we may expect a harking back to the standpoint of the Buddhist
Kalmuck, whose child is taught to pray: "O God, who art my father and my
In all ages and over the whole world peoples of culture less than ours
have had their "mother-gods," all the embodiments of motherhood, the joy
of the _Magnificat_, the sacrosanct expression of the poet's