Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 209


It is a doctrine alike of the Brahminical Hindus and of the Buddhist sect that the confinement of the human soul, an emanation of the divine spirit, in a human body, is a state of misery, and the consequence of frailties and sins committed during former existences. But they hold that some few individuals have appeared on this earth from time to time, not under the necessity of terrestrial existence, but who voluntarily descend to the earth to promote the welfare of mankind. These individuals have gradually assumed the character of reappearances of Buddha himself, in which capacity the line is continued till the present day in the several Lamas of Thibet, China, and other countries where Buddhism prevails. In consequence of the victories of Gengis Khan and his successors, the Lama residing in Thibet was raised to the dignity of chief pontiff of the sect. A separate province was assigned to him as his own territory, and besides his spiritual dignity, he became to a limited extent a temporal monarch. He is styled the Dalai Lama.

The first Christian missionaries who proceeded to Thibet were surprised to find there in the heart of Asia a pontifical court and several other ecclesiastical institutions resembling those of the Roman Catholic church. They found convents for priests and nuns; also, processions and forms of religious worship, attended with much pomp and splendor; and many were induced by these similarities to consider Lamaism as a sort of degenerated Christianity. It is not improbable that the Lamas derived some of these practices from the Nestorial Christians, who were settled in Tartary when Buddhism was introduced into Thibet.


An early account, communicated probably by travelling merchants, of a Lama or spiritual chief among the Tartars, seems to have occasioned in Europe the report of a Presbyter or Prester John, a Christian pontiff, resident in Upper Asia. The Pope sent a mission in search of him, as did also Louis IX of France, some years later, but both missions were unsuccessful, though the small communities of Nestorial Christians, which they did find, served to keep up the belief in Europe that such a personage did exist somewhere in the East. At last in the fifteenth century, a Portuguese traveller, Pedro Covilham, happening to hear that there was a Christian prince in the country of the Abessines (Abyssinia), not far from the Red Sea, concluded that this must be the true Prester John. He accordingly went thither, and penetrated to the court of the king, whom he calls Negus. Milton alludes to him in Paradise Lost, Book XI, where, describing Adam's vision of his descendants in their various nations and cities, scattered over the face of the earth, he says,

  "—— Nor did his eyes not ken
  The empire of Negus, to his utmost port
  Ercoco, and the less maritime kings,
  Mombaza and Quiloa and Melind."

Chapter XXXI

Northern Mythology Valhalla The Valkyrior

The stories which have engaged our attention thus far relate to the mythology of southern regions. But there is another branch of ancient superstitions which ought not to be entirely overlooked, especially as it belongs to the nations from which we, through our English ancestors, derive our origin. It is that of the northern nations called Scandinavians, who inhabited the countries now known as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. These mythological records are contained in two collections called the Eddas, of which the oldest is in poetry and dates back to the year 1056, the more modern, or prose Edda, being of the date of 1640.