An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 55An important attribute which we may observe here is the thunder-god's lightning spear or arrow. This is the attribute of the Greek Apollo, of at least half a dozen American thunder-deities, of Indra, and of the Egyptian goddess Neith. En-lil, the thunder-god of Babylonia, was also a god of war. As patron of the chase and war, the thunder-god is often represented with a spear or bow and arrow, as, for example, the Mexican god Mixcoatl, who is supposed to range far and wide in search of game. Often, too, the lightning flash is symbolized by the serpent; Uitzilopochtli's robe was interwoven with serpents, and he possessed a drum of serpent's skin, while 'Mixcoatl,' just cited, signifies 'Cloud-serpent.' Besides symbolizing the lightning flash, the serpent in its connexion with the thunder-god may typify the rain which invariably accompanies thunder; and because of his character as a fertilizing agent and bearer of the rain which causes vegetable growth, the thunder-god is at times regarded as a deity of agriculture, even in his character of war-god. The Roman Mars so appears in the song of the Arval brethren, a sect whose duty it was to guard crops and herds, and as Mars Sylvanus he was invoked by the Roman farmer in the yearly lustration of his land. The Mexican Uitzilopochtli, too, was regarded as a patron of agriculture.
As we have seen in the myth of Brounger, the thunder-god might be connected in some manner with flint, from the circumstance that fire is capable of being struck from that mineral.
A word is necessary upon the connexion of the thunder-god with rain and with water generally. There are, of course, water-gods who have nothing whatever to do with thunder, but a good many thunder-gods possess power over not only the rain but the winds as well. Especially is this the case in America.
Another striking example of the manner in which deities become departmental is the sea-god or goddess. As the corn-god presided over the harvest of the land, so does the sea-god preside over the harvest of the waste of waters. Later, when men build ships and go down to the sea in them, the powers and functions of these marine deities become greatly magnified. The circumstance that sea-gods or goddesses are almost invariably represented as having a fish's tail is accounted for in the same manner as the possession of animal characteristics by certain land deities is explained—that is, just as gods derived from eponymous or totemistic animals are sometimes represented as men with animal heads or animal attributes, so deities which were once eponymous fish are represented partly in anthropomorphic, partly in piscine form.
The following are instances of this. The coast Peruvians before the Spanish Conquest regarded the sea in much the same manner as many primitive peoples regard the land—that is, as a nourishing mother. Indeed they called it Mama-cocha, or Mother Sea, because it yielded the fish which formed so large a part of their subsistence. The whale was a general object of worship all along that coast, and the skate, sea-dog, dory, crab, and sardine, especially the last, were worshipped. It was not the individuals of those finny tribes which the Peruvian Indian adored, but the original eponymous fish which engendered all the others of the same species, and sent them periodically into the ocean, according to the season of each, to be food for man. All over North and South America the belief held good that animals, birds, and fish have eponymous counterparts who act as kings, chiefs, or even gods to the others of their species. In course of time such fish-gods became anthropomorphic. In Peru, again, we find in connexion with the worship of the fish-bearing lake Tuncapata the adoration of an idol called Copacahuana, carven out of a bluish-green stone (obviously the symbol for water) and having the[Pg 126] body of a fish, surmounted by a rude human head. She was venerated as the giver of the fish with which the lake abounded. To come to classical examples, Poseidon and Neptune were usually represented as half man, half fish, bearded and grasping a trident. Oannes or Ea, the sea-god of Babylonia, is also figured as a man with a fish's tail, below which human feet peep out. Like many corn-gods or gods of the harvest, he was also a culture-god, and, according to Berosus, taught the natives of the Babylonian shore the arts of life. Thus, as the corn-plant itself, as we shall see, is capable of evolving into a god, so was the fish—so intimate and complete is the connexion between religious conceptions and the food supply. In one representation of a deity executed as a bas-relief on the walls of Nimrud, and on a signet from Nineveh, we notice that the head and shoulders of the deity are covered by the skin of a fish, remnant of his piscine origin, just as many anthropomorphic gods, once animal in form, have the skins of their animal prototypes cast about the upper parts of their statues.