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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 41

It seems to me that this theory is much too complicated and multiplies difficulties, as will be seen if we ponder for a moment the history of the Mother-goddess in Mexico. In Mexican myth the earth is represented as a monster, Cipactli, the pictures of which suggest a crocodile, a swordfish, or a dragon, probably a dragon, that great earth-monster common to the mythologies of many races and most conveniently called the 'earth-dragon,' The sign 'Cipactli' became the first in the calendar, and with it are connected the creative deities and the Earth-Mother or Great Mother. Circumstances exist which lend colour to the idea that, as in other countries, the Mexican Mother was at one time regarded as forming the earth, the soil. At the terrible and picturesque festival of the Xalaquia ('She who is clothed with the soil') a sacrificed virgin enriched and recruited with her blood the frame of the worn-out goddess, who had been, says Seler, "merged in the popular imagination with the all-nourisher, the all-begetter, the earth." Perhaps the best evidence that the Earth-Mother was evolved from the earth-dragon is the colossal stone figure which once towered above the entrance to the temple of Uitzilopochtli in Mexico and is now housed in the museum of that city. In this figure, as in a similar though less massive statue from Tehuacan, the characteristics of the Cipactli animal are reproduced in a wealth of scale, claw, and tusk. The direct descent of the Great Mother from the earth-animal, the personification of the earth-beast as a divine being, explains her savage wantonness and spares us the necessity for the elaborate genealogy[Pg 99] with which Professor Elliot Smith so ably dowers her. He cannot allege that Egypt had no earth-dragon, because Apep is alluded to in the Book of Overthrowing Apep as a crocodile and a serpent, and that he was developed from the earth-beast seems fairly clear. He might also say that the Mexican myth was a distorted echo of the Egyptian. But the evolutionary process is too apparent in Mexican art to permit of such an hypothesis.

The last paper, "The Birth of Aphrodite," traces that goddess, not to the mandrake, as Dr Harris does, but to the cowrie-shell. The cowrie was an amulet employed to increase the fertility of women, and in time came to be personified in statuettes. Hence arose the idea of a Great Mother, a giver of health, life, and good luck. "These beliefs," says the Professor, "had taken shape long before any definite ideas had been formulated as to the physiology of animal reproduction, and before agriculture was practised." It is impossible to quote more from the work of this most suggestive and stimulating of all modern writers on mythology, and I can only here warn my readers against the unwisdom of leaving his essays unread.

The great ability with which Professor Elliot Smith presents his thesis is as obvious as the probability of most of his ideas, but it seems to me that he regards them too much as proven facts, and that he fails to recognize the insecurity of hypotheses based upon the present inadequate data of early religious manifestations. These essays are the outcome of a brilliant mind impatient of the lumbering slowness of the mythological machine, and they show a kind of prophetic gift which pierces beyond proof, and may be accepted as infallible, if uncanny, or rejected as over-adventurous. For my part, I feel that Professor Smith is right in by far the greater number of his beliefs, but I can scarcely admit that he supplies me with sufficient proof. Rather would I say that his book affects me as a work of genuine theoretical inspiration and insight, and not as a cold catalogue of established facts. Professor Smith is the Galileo of mythology—a science which has brought forth many personalities of ponderous erudition, but few geniuses. This does not[Pg 100] mean that he is illogical, or that his papers are not prepared with adequate and even meticulous care. It means that he is looking out of a casement through which he alone has the right of vision, and, seeing things so plainly as he does, he expects those who do not possess similar gifts to participate in his clairvoyance. His proofs, if few, are always apposite. The reviewer might wish that each of the essays occupied three portly volumes instead of a demy octavo book of 234 pages, and included a much larger number of confirmatory illustrations.


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