An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 130Vishnu is the preserver, as Brahmā is the creator, and he is closely associated with Indra, whom he assisted to combat the powers of evil. He it was who rendered the universe habitable for man, "made the atmosphere wide and stretched out the world." He is a sort of demiurge patrolling the earth and may have evolved from the idea that the sun was a great watchful eye ever looking down to inspect what was occurring on the world below, as do several other deities.
Siva, a development of a Vedic storm-god Rudra, was regarded as a destroyer or regenerator. He is a god of reproduction and restoration, but he has a dark side to his character, and has given rise to one of the most revolting cults of any religion. Durga is a goddess of war and destruction and the wife of Siva. She is also known as Kali, and, like her husband, is placated by dreadful rites. Ganesa, the son of Siva, is an elephant-headed god of wisdom and of good luck. He is also a patron of learning and literature. He rather resembles the Egyptian Thoth.
A host of lesser deities follow these, notably the Gandharvas, who in Vedic times constituted the body-guard of Soma, but in Puranic days became heavenly minstrels, plying their art at the Court of Indra. The Apsaras are the houris of Indra's[Pg 292] court. Indian epics contain many notices of numerous demigods, and the planets are also deified.
It may be said that in later times the fervour of Hindu worship has concentrated itself round the two figures of Vishnu and Siva, who from unimportant Vedic beginnings have evolved into deities of the first importance. There is a certain rivalry between them, but they are also complementary, being the beneficent and evil aspects of the divine spirit. It would seem as if dualism and monotheism had almost met here to form a third condition of godhead.
New gods of inferior kind have arisen in India and a small pantheon has been apportioned to each of them, but they do not require description here.
The mythology of the Teutonic peoples has a strong likeness to those of the other Aryan races, notably the Greeks, Romans, and Celts. At the head is Odin or Wotan, who in many respects resembles Zeus or Jupiter. He is a divine legislator, cunning in Runic lore, and the creator of mankind. His worshippers pictured him as a one-eyed man of venerable aspect clad in a wide-brimmed hat and voluminous cloak, and travelling through the world to observe the doings of men. With his brothers Vili and Ve he raised the earth out of the waters of chaos. His name of 'All-Father' shows the exact position he held in the minds of Scandinavian and Germanic folk. His wife, Freya, is much akin to Juno or Hera. She was the matron and housewife deified and the patroness of marriage.
The malevolent deity was represented by Loki, perhaps originally a fire-god, and ever at the elbow of Odin offering him evil counsel. Loki is one of the most interesting figures in any mythology. He is both friend and foe to the Æsir or divine beings and seems to have reduced to a fine art the policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. We find him assisting at the making of humanity and we also[Pg 293] discover him acting as steersman to the ship that brings the forces of evil to combat with the gods on the last great day of reckoning. At times he would employ his natural cunning on behalf of the gods, at other times use it for their ignominious defeat. Protean in character, he could assume any shape he chose at will. He has been alluded to as the great riddle of Teutonic mythology, but it may be that this riddle represents fire in its beneficent and maleficent aspects. Indeed, the name Logi is given elsewhere to a certain fire-demon, and this almost clinches the matter. His many evil deeds were at last punished by his being chained to a rock like Prometheus, while over his head hung a serpent whose venom fell upon his face. The fact that Prometheus, also a fire-god, met the same fate is one of those baffling resemblances which occasionally confront the student of myth, and set him on a lifetime's search for the connexion between the stories. The great danger is that such a seeker may become enamoured of some fantastic solution. Frequently a possible solution leaps into consciousness with all the rapidity of an inspiration; but there are true and false inspirations, and the difficulty is to distinguish between them. They should be ruthlessly subjected to a melting and remelting process in the crucible of comparison until only the pure gold remains. Had this scientific process been rigorously adopted by all mythologists, the scientific value of the study would have been enormously enhanced and it would possess greater uniformity; for although magnificent work has been achieved, far too much loose thinking has been indulged in, and at the present time we are reduced to groping for standards and definitions in a manner quite extraordinary.