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Custom and Myth

Page: 50

Among the Australians this same constellation is called Totyarguil; he was a man who, when bathing, was killed by a fabulous animal, a kind of kelpie; as Orion, in Greece, was killed by the Scorpion. Like Orion, he was placed among the stars. The Australians have a constellation named Eagle, but he is our Sinus, or Dog-star.

The Indians of the Amazon are in one tale with the Australians and Eskimo. ‘Dr. Silva de Coutinho informs me,’ says Professor Hartt, {131} ‘that the Indians of the Amazonas not only give names to many of the heavenly bodies, but also tell stories about them. The two stars that form the shoulders of Orion are said to be an old man and a boy in a canoe, chasing a peixe boi, by which name is designated a dark spot in the sky near the above constellation.’ The Indians also know monkey-stars, crane-stars, and palm-tree stars.

The Bushmen, almost the lowest tribe of South Africa, have the same star-lore and much the same myths as the Greeks, Australians, Egyptians, and Eskimo. According to Dr. Bleek, ‘stars, and even the sun and moon, were once mortals on earth, or even animals or inorganic substances, which happened to get translated to the skies. The sun was once a man, whose arm-pit radiated a limited amount of light round his house. Some children threw him into the sky, and there he shines.’ The Homeric hymn to Helios, in the same way, as Mr. Max Müller observes, ‘looks on the sun as a half-god, almost a hero, who had once lived on earth.’ The pointers of the Southern Cross were ‘two men who were lions,’ just as Callisto, in Arcadia, was a woman who was a bear. It is not at all rare in those queer philosophies, as in that of the Scandinavians, to find that the sun or moon has been a man or woman. In Australian fable the moon was a man, the sun a woman of indifferent character, who appears at dawn in a coat of red kangaroo skins, the present of an admirer. In an old Mexican text the moon was a man, across whose face a god threw a rabbit, thus making the marks in the moon. {132a}

Many separate races seem to recognise the figure of a hare, where we see ‘the Man in the Moon.’ In a Buddhist legend, an exemplary and altruistic hare was translated to the moon. ‘To the common people in India the spots on the moon look like a hare, and Chandras, the god of the moon, carries a hare: hence the moon is called sasin or sasanka, hare-mark. The Mongolians also see in these shadows the figure of a hare.’ {132b} Among the Eskimo, the moon is a girl, who always flees from her cruel brother, the sun, because he disfigured her face. Elsewhere the sun is the girl, beloved by her own brother, the moon; she blackens her face to avert his affection. On the Rio Branco, and among the Tomunda, the moon is a girl who loved her brother and visited him in the dark. He detected her wicked passion by drawing his blackened hand over her face. The marks betrayed her, and, as the spots on the moon, remain to this day. {133}

Among the New Zealanders and North American Indians the sun is a great beast, whom the hunters trapped and thrashed with cudgels. His blood is used in some New Zealand incantations; and, according to an Egyptian myth, was kneaded into clay at the making of man. But there is no end to similar sun-myths, in all of which the sun is regarded as a man, or even as a beast.

To return to the stars—

The Red Indians, as Schoolcraft says, ‘hold many of the planets to be transformed adventurers.’ The Iowas ‘believed stars to be a sort of living creatures.’ One of them came down and talked to a hunter, and showed him where to find game. The Gallinomeros of Central California, according to Mr. Bancroft, believe that the sun and moon were made and lighted up by the Hawk and the Coyote, who one day flew into each other’s faces in the dark, and were determined to prevent such accidents in the future. But the very oddest example of the survival of the notion that the stars are men or women is found in the ‘Pax’ of Aristophanes. Trygæus in that comedy has just made an expedition to heaven. A slave meets him, and asks him, ‘Is not the story true, then, that we become stars when we die?’ The answer is ‘Certainly;’ and Trygæus points out the star into which Ios of Chios has just been metamorphosed. Aristophanes is making fun of some popular Greek superstition. But that very superstition meets us in New Zealand. ‘Heroes,’ says Mr. Taylor, ‘were thought to become stars of greater or less brightness, according to the number of their victims slain in fight.’ The Aryan race is seldom far behind, when there are ludicrous notions to be credited or savage tales to be told. We have seen that Aristophanes, in Greece, knew the Eskimo doctrine that stars are souls of the dead. The Persians had the same belief, {134a} ‘all the unnumbered stars were reckoned ghosts of men.’ {134b} The German folklore clings to the same belief, ‘Stars are souls; when a child dies God makes a new star.’ Kaegi quotes {134c} the same idea from the Veda, and from the Satapatha Brahmana the thoroughly Australian notion that ‘good men become stars.’ For a truly savage conception, it would be difficult, in South Africa or on the Amazons, to beat the following story from the ‘Aitareya Brahmana’ (iii. 33.) Pragapati, the Master of Life, conceived an incestuous passion for his own daughter. Like Zeus, and Indra, and the Australian wooer in the Pleiad tale, he concealed himself under the shape of a beast, a roebuck, and approached his own daughter, who had assumed the form of a doe. The gods, in anger at the awful crime, made a monster to punish Pragapati. The monster sent an arrow through the god’s body; he sprang into heaven, and, like the Arcadian bear, this Aryan roebuck became a constellation. He is among the stars of Orion, and his punisher, also now a star, is, like the Greek Orion, a hunter. The daughter of Pragapati, the doe, became another constellation, and the avenging arrow is also a set of stars in the sky. What follows, about the origin of the gods called Adityas, is really too savage to be quoted by a chaste mythologist.


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