An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 138This snake dwelt in the waters, and the old people went to the shore and sang sacred songs to it. It rose a little out of the water; the magic chant was repeated, and it then showed its horns. They cut off the horns, and, when occasion necessitated, placed a fragment of them in their 'war-physic,' to ward off the arrows of enemies.
The priests of the Choctaws, as is usual among Indian tribes, were medicine-men and diviners. The office of high priest, or 'Great Beloved Man,' as he was called, was kept in one family, passing from father to eldest son. The junior priests are described as dressed in white robes and carrying on their head or arm a great owl-skin stuffed very ingeniously, as a symbol of wisdom and divination. They were distinguished from the rest of the tribe by their taciturnity, grave and solemn countenance, and dignified carriage, and went about the settlements singing to themselves in a low, almost inaudible voice. They possessed an apparently esoteric language, which examination by competent scholars has proved to be merely a modification of the ordinary speech. It contains some words unknown in the idiom of daily life, but they are archaisms, or borrowed from other peoples, along with the ceremonies or myths to which they refer.
One of the best examples of a South American religion is that of the Araucanian Indians of Chile. Early accounts credit them with a fairly exalted theogony, with a supreme being, the author of all things, called Pillan—a name derived from pulli or pilli, 'the soul,' and signifying Supreme Essence. Pillan is, according to the Austrian missionary Dobrizhoffer, their word for thunder. They also called him Guenu-pillan, 'the Spirit of Heaven,' and Annolu, 'the[Pg 309] Infinite,' besides many other lesser names. The native tribal life was but a microcosm of his celestial existence; everything was modelled upon the heavenly polity of Pillan, who was called, in his aspect of Supreme Ruler, Toquichen, or 'the Great Chief' of the invisible world. He had his apo-ulmenes and his ulmenes, or greater and lesser sub-chiefs, like the chief of any prairie confederacy; and to them he entrusted the administration of his affairs of lesser importance.
In Pillan it is easy to trace a mythological conception widely prevalent among the indigenous American peoples. He is unquestionably a thunder-god, similar to such deities as the Hurakan of the Kiches of Guatemala, the Tlaloc of the Mexicans, and the Con or Cun, the thunder-god of the Collao of Peru. The gathering of clouds round great mountain peaks like those of the Andes, and the resultant phenomena of thunder and lightning, kindle in the savage mind the idea that the summits of these mountains are the dwelling-place of some powerful supernatural being, who manifests his presence by the agencies of fire and terrifying sound. Supernatural beings of this kind are usually described by the Indians as red in colour, having neither arms nor legs, but moving with incredible swiftness, difficult of approach because of their irascibility, but generous to those who succeed in gaining their favour. They are in general placated by libations of native spirit poured into the pools below the snow-line, and in case of drought are roused from inactivity by the sympathetic magic of 'rain-making,' in which the magician or priest sprinkles water from a gourd over the thirsty soil.