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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 64

The distinctly circumscribed, sharply defined shape of Orion is compared by the Indian with familiar objects of a rhomboidal form, or similar shaped animals. The Bakairi see in this constellation a dried stack of manioc, the Karayas a beetle, the Ipurinas a turtle, and so on. In myths he appears first in connexion with the neighbouring star-groups of the Pleiades[Pg 142] and Hyades (Aldebaran). He then becomes among the Indians a mighty hunter who follows a female, our Pleiades, as Orion in the Greek legends pursues the daughters of Pleion, with whom he had fallen in love, until they are changed by Zeus into a swarm of doves. So in the legend of the Caribs of Guiana the hunter Seriko goes after his faithless wife Wailya, whom the Tapir (Hyades group) had taken away from him.

The wifely relationship of the Pleiades with the Indian Orion is also met with under the sign of Seuci (Tupi), Ceiguce (Amazonia), though it cannot be said that the idea can solely be ascribed to the Tupi. The myth tells how a girl of the kindred Uaupe race (Tariana or Temiana) flees her village in order to escape from the local marriage customs and enters the house of a Yacami chief who takes her to wife. She brings forth two eggs, from which a boy and girl are hatched, both ornamented with stars. The girl, decked with seven stars, is Seuci; the boy, Pinon, is girdled with a star-serpent, and perhaps Orion's belt. The children return home with their mother, where the boy secures recognition by the performance of prodigies, such as the slinging of giant stones.

MYTHS OF DEATH AND TABOO

Myths of death are obviously √¶tiological—that is, manufactured ad hoc, to account for death, usually regarded by primitive peoples as an unnatural event, due to magic or the breaking of a taboo or the neglect of some ritual act. Thus death was let loose upon the world by the breaking of the taboo or prohibition which had been placed upon the opening of Pandora's box. The apple myth of Adam and Eve bears similar evidences of the idea of taboo. An Australian myth recounts how a woman approaches a forbidden tree and thus meets her doom. Several myths relate how death came into the world through the agency of Night—obviously a connexion of mortality with the phenomenon of sleep. Thus a Polynesian myth tells how Mani tried to pass through Night, but a little bird sang and awakened the night-monster, who ate Mani up. In Southern India it is believed that "the death-snake bites while God sleeps." A Central African story tells that when[Pg 143] sleep was unknown in the world a woman offered to teach a man how to sleep. She held her victim's nostrils so hard that he could not breathe, but died.

Taboo myths of importance are not so numerous as might be supposed. Perhaps the chief is the tale of Cupid and Psyche. In its later form the bride was forbidden to look upon her husband, but her curiosity overcame her fear and she beheld his face, with dire results. This myth is, of course, a legacy from an age when for various reasons it was taboo for a woman to see her husband for some time after her marriage, just as it is to-day among certain African peoples, the 'reasons' being to neutralize the dangers supposed to be attendant upon the matrimonial state. Akin to this is the name-taboo, found in the story of Lohengrin, whose bride is not permitted to ask the name and rank of her lord and master, the reason being that the real name, like the soul, is part of one's personality and that it is dangerous for any other person to know it, a pseudo-name being commonly employed among many savage races. Thus, if the names of certain evilly disposed supernatural beings are known and pronounced their power disappears, as in the well-known stories of Tom-tit-tot and Rumplestiltskin.


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