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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 46

teotoste, or gods of the deer and rabbit respectively. It is equally in accordance with primitive logic to offer to the spirits a portion of the flesh. The invisible powers must have their share of all that man delights in: at a later period offerings are made them of fermented liquors, narcotics, perfumes, and the material of clothing and ornaments. From the solid parts of the slain animal those are selected which are most easily volatilised. A portion of the fat, ultimately all the fat which adheres to the internal organs of the slain animal, is therefore burnt, and reaches the nostrils of the spirits in the form of a grateful savour. At a later period, when man depends for flesh food on domesticated animals, such offerings are reserved for gods of the first rank: and hence in Peru the chief deities, who alone were thus honoured, obtained the distinctive name of huira-cocha (fat sacrifices)."

THE 'SUCCESSFUL' FETISH

Such fetishes as are 'successful'—that is, such of them as survive the test of domestic use and prove luck-bringers—may by their miraculous acts or the power and policy of their immediate devotees become gods. But it must be borne in mind that a fetish-object is the place of imprisonment or residence, manufactured by human agency, of a spirit which has concluded a bargain with its devotees to act for their mutual benefit. Only a series of marvels of a protective or fortune-making nature can raise it to the rank of godhead, or, as has been said, the policy of its owners, who thus constitute themselves its priesthood. Says Mr Payne: "Before the gods are thus permanently established they have usually passed through a[Pg 108] period of probation. Only the fittest survive: if the god proves useless for the purpose for which he exists, whether of securing success in the chase, abundant crops, or fortune in war, he is forthwith abandoned. Where game and fish abound, and agriculture remains in its rudiments, the gods are chiefly required to render assistance in hunting, fishing, and war, though some are employed to secure success in cultivation. Such was the condition of the tribes throughout the vast region of the Amazon river who had gods for each of these purposes. On an expedition of war one of the war-gods was placed in the prow of the boat; on a fishing expedition this place was occupied by a god holding a fish. When out of use the gods were stowed away in baskets; in case these expeditions proved unsuccessful the gods were thrown aside and replaced by others. But those which survive the test of experience are cherished in families as possessions of the highest value. These are the t'raphim of the Hebrews, the penates of the Latins, the cconopa of the Peruvians: words in each case meaning precisely the 'nourishers' or 'food-givers' of the household. According to the Biblical narrative, the daughter of an Aram├Žan sheikh considered herself entitled to take with her some of these family gods when she crossed the Euphrates with her Hebrew husband: an incident which recalls the Turcoman legend of Sekedschet, whose Chinese wife brought household gods with her as part of her dowry. These gods, it is clear, were regarded as mere chattels, existing for the benefit of their owners: in Bokhara, indeed, they were commonly bought and sold at markets or fairs. So long as man worshipped only these merely factitious gods, this essential instability obviously prevented his religious ideas from gaining force and permanence: qualities which first appear when he begins to worship the distinguished dead, and only become conspicuous when he adopts as objects of veneration the permanent objects and forces of nature."

TOTEMS AS GODS

A totem spirit achieves godhead in much the same way as the fetish. That the totem develops into the god is abundantly[Pg 109] proven by the animal likenesses and attributes of many deities in lands widely separated. The animal-headed gods of Egypt, the bovine deities of Assyria, the animal gods of many pantheons are, very many of them, totemic in origin. These frequently attained a human semblance at a later stage of their history, but in many instances the original totem animal or a portion of its insignia remained. Thus the Grecian Pallas Athene was attended by an owl; Apollo was accompanied by a mouse ('Apollo Smintheus'); the Mexican god of war, Uitzilopochtli, was frequently disguised in a cloak made of humming-birds' feathers; and Prometheus must have possessed wings to enable him to steal the fire from heaven. Many gods, as Lang says, exhibit traces of "fur and feather," but all of these are not necessarily totemic. Where the act of devouring the deity symbolically by means of the substitution of an animal or man for the eponym or god is indulged in at certain stated intervals, the origin of the god so communed with is totemic, and this fact often serves to determine the nature of a deity.


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