Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning
Page: 320and on these were built up the gods and heroes, and all wonder-working creatures and things, and the poetical fables and fancies which have come down to us, and which still linger in our customs and our fairy tales; bright and sunny and many-colored in the warm regions of the South, sterner and wilder and rougher in the North, more homelike in the middle and western countries; but always alike in their [Pg 557]main features, and always having the same meaning when we come to dig it out, and these forms and their meaning being the same in the lands of the West Aryans as in those still peopled by the Aryans of the East.
The story of Cinderella is one of the many fairy tales which help us to find out their meaning, and take us straight back to the far-off land where fairy legends began, and to the people who made them. This well-known fairy tale has been found among the myths of our Aryan ancestors, and from this we know that it is the story of the Sun and the Dawn. Cinderella, gray and dark and dull, is all neglected when she is away from the Sun, obscured by the envious clouds, her sisters, and by her step-mother, the Night. So she is Aurora, the Dawn, and the Fairy Prince is the Morning Sun, ever pursuing her, to claim her for his bride. This is the legend as it is found in the ancient Hindoo books; and this explains at once the source and the meaning of the fairy tale.[557:1]
Another tale which helps us in our task is that of Jack the Giant-Killer, who is really one of the very oldest and most widely in wonder-land. Now, who is this wonderful little fellow? He is none other than the hero who, in all countries and ages, fights with monsters and overcomes them; like Indra, the ancient Hindoo Sun-god, whose thunderbolts slew the demons of drought in the far East; or Perseus, who, in Greek story, delivers the maiden from the sea-monster; or Odysseus, who tricks the giant Polyphemus, and causes him to throw himself into the sea; or Thor, whose hammer beats down the frost giants of the North. "The gifts bestowed upon Jack are found in Tartar stories, Hindoo tales, in German legends, and in the fables of Scandinavia."
Still another is that of Little Red Riding-Hood. The story of Little Red Riding Hood, as we call her, or Little Red-Cap, as she is called in the German tales, also comes from the same source, and (as we have seen in Chapter IX.), refers to the Sun and Night.
"One of the fancies in the most ancient Aryan or Hindoo stories was that there was a great dragon that was trying to devour the Sun, to prevent him from shining upon the earth, and filling it with brightness and life and beauty, and that Indra, the Sun-god, killed the dragon. Now, this is the meaning of Little Red Riding-Hood, as it is told in our nursery tales. Little Red Riding-Hood is the Evening Sun, which is always described as red or golden; the old grandmother is the Earth, to whom the rays of the Sun bring warmth and comfort. The wolf—which is a well-known figure for [Pg 558]the Clouds and blackness of Night (in Teutonic mythology)[558:1]—is the dragon in another form. First, he devours the grandmother; that is, he wraps the earth in thick clouds, which the Evening Sun is not strong enough to pierce through. Then, with the darkness of Night, he swallows up the Evening Sun itself, and all is dark and desolate. Then, as in the German tale, the night-thunder and the storm winds are represented by the loud snoring of the wolf; and then the huntsman, the Morning Sun, comes in all his strength and majesty, and chases away the night clouds and kills the wolf, and revives old grandmother Earth and Little Red Riding Hood to life again."
Nor is it in these stories alone that we can trace the ancient Hindoo legends, and the Sun-myth. There is, as Mr. Bunce observes in his "Fairy Tales, their Origin and Meaning," scarcely a tale of Greek or Roman mythology, no legend of Teutonic or Celtic or Scandinavian growth, no great romance of what we call the middle ages, no fairy story taken down from the lips of ancient folk, and dressed for us in modern shape and tongue, that we do not find, in some form or another, in these Eastern poems, which are composed of allegorical tales of gods and heroes.
When, in the Vedic hymns, Kephalos, Prokris, Hermes, Daphne, Zeus, Ouranos, stand forth as simple names for the Sun, the Dew, the Wind, the Dawn, the Heaven and the Sky, each recognized as such, yet each endowed with the most perfect consciousness, we feel that the great riddle of mythology is solved, and that we no longer lack the key which shall disclose its most hidden treasures. When we hear the people saying, "Our friend the Sun is dead. Will he rise? Will the Dawn come back again?" we see the death of Hercules, and the weary waiting while Leto struggles with the birth of Phoibos. When on the return of day we hear the cry—
"Rise! our life, our spirit has come back, the darkness is gone, the light draws near!"
—we are carried at once to the Homeric hymn, and we hear the joyous shout of all the gods when Phoibos springs to life and light on Delos.[558:2]