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Custom and Myth

Page: 42

{104a} To these worshipful creatures ‘men offered what they usually saw them eat’ (i. 53). But men were not content to adore large and dangerous animals. ‘There was not an animal, how vile and filthy soever, that they did not worship as a god,’ including ‘lizards, toads, and frogs.’ In the midst of these superstitions the Incas appeared. Just as the tribes claimed descent from animals, great or small, so the Incas drew their pedigree from the sun, which they adored like the gens of the Aurelii in Rome. {104b} Thus every Indian had his pacarissa, or, as the North American Indians say, totem, {105a} a natural object from which he claimed descent, and which, in a certain degree, he worshipped. Though sun-worship became the established religion, worship of the animal pacarissas was still tolerated. The sun-temples also contained huacas, or images, of the beasts which the Indians had venerated. {105b} In the great temple of Pachacamac, the most spiritual and abstract god of Peruvian faith, ‘they worshipped a she-fox and an emerald. The devil also appeared to them, and spoke in the form of a tiger, very fierce.’ {105c} This toleration of an older and cruder, in subordination to a purer, faith is a very common feature in religious evolution. In Catholic countries, to this day, we may watch, in Holy Week, the Adonis feast described by Theocritus, {105d} and the procession and entombment of the old god of spring.

‘The Incas had the good policy to collect all the tribal animal gods into their temples in and round Cuzco, in which the two leading gods were the Master of Life, and the Sun.’ Did a process of this sort ever occur in Greek religion, and were older animal gods ever collected into the temples of such deities as Apollo?

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While a great deal of scattered evidence about many animals consecrated to Greek gods points in this direction, it will be enough, for the present, to examine the case of the Sacred Mice. Among races which are still in the totemistic stage, which still claim descent from animals and from other objects, a peculiar marriage law generally exists, or can be shown to have existed. No man may marry a woman who is descended from the same ancestral animal, and who bears the same totem-name, and carries the same badge or family crest, as himself. A man descended from the Crane, and whose family name is Crane, cannot marry a woman whose family name is Crane. He must marry a woman of the Wolf, or Turtle, or Swan, or other name, and her children keep her family title, not his. Thus, if a Crane man marries a Swan woman, the children are Swans, and none of them may marry a Swan; they must marry Turtles, Wolves, or what not, and their children, again, are Turtles, or Wolves. Thus there is necessarily an eternal come and go of all the animal names known in a district. As civilisation advances these rules grow obsolete. People take their names from the father, as among ourselves. Finally the dwellers in a given district, having become united into a local tribe, are apt to drop the various animal titles and to adopt, as the name of the whole tribe, the name of the chief, or of the predominating family. Let us imagine a district of some twenty miles in which there are Crane, Wolf, Turtle, and Swan families. Long residence together, and common interests, have welded them into a local tribe. The chief is of the Wolf family, and the tribe, sinking family differences and family names, calls itself ‘the Wolves.’ Such tribes were probably, in the beginning, the inhabitants of the various Egyptian towns which severally worshipped the wolf, or the sheep, or the crocodile, and abstained religiously (except on certain sacrificial occasions) from the flesh of the animal that gave them its name. {107}

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It has taken us long to reach the Sacred Mice of Greek religion, but we are now in a position to approach their august divinity. We have seen that the sun-worship superseded, without abolishing, the tribal pacarissas in Peru, and that the huacas, or images, of the sacred animals were admitted under the roof of the temple of the Sun. Now it is recognised that the temples of the Sminthian Apollo contained images of sacred mice among other animals, and our argument is that here, perhaps, we have another example of the Peruvian religious evolution. Just as, in Peru, the tribes adored ‘vile and filthy’ animals, just as the solar worship of the Incas subordinated these, just as the huacas of the beasts remained in the temples of the Peruvian Sun; so, we believe, the tribes along the Mediterranean coasts had, at some very remote prehistoric period, their animal pacarissas; these were subordinated to the religion (to some extent solar) of Apollo; and the huacas, or animal idols, survived in Apollo’s temples.

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If this theory be correct, we shall probably find the mouse, for example, revered as a sacred animal in many places. This would necessarily follow, if the marriage customs which we have described ever prevailed on Greek soil, and scattered the mouse-name far and wide. {108a} Traces of the Mouse families, and of adoration, if adoration there was of the mouse, would linger on in the following shapes:—(1) Places would be named from mice, and mice would be actually held sacred in themselves. (2) The mouse-name would be given locally to the god who superseded the mouse.


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