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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 155

Wild animals were considered to be other forms of human beings who could marry princes and princesses as they do in so many fairy tales. Damayanti addressed the tiger, as well as the mountain and tree, saying:

I approach him without fear.
"Of the beasts art thou the monarch, all this forest thy domain;...
Thou, O king of beasts, console me, if my Nala thou hast seen."[307]

A tribal totem exercised sway over a tribal district. In Egypt, as Herodotus recorded, the crocodile was worshipped in one district and hunted down in another. Tribes fought against tribes when totemic animals were slain. The Babylonian and Indian myths about the conflicts between eagles and serpents may have originated as records of battles between eagle clans and serpent clans. Totemic animals were tabooed. The Set pig of Egypt and the devil pig of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales were not eaten except sacrificially. Families were supposed to be descended from swans and were named Swans, or from seals and were named Seals, like the Gaelic "Mac Codrums", whose surname signifies "son of the seal"; the nickname of the Campbells, "sons of the pig", may refer to their totemic boar's head crest, which commemorated the slaying, perhaps the sacrificial slaying, of the boar by their ancestor Diarmid. Mr. Garstang, in The Syrian Goddess, thinks it possible that the boar which killed Adonis was of totemic origin. So may have been the fish form of the Sumerian god Ea. When an animal totem was sacrificed once a year, and eaten sacrificially so that the strength of the clan might be maintained, the priest who wrapped himself in its skin was supposed to have transmitted to him certain magical powers; he became identified with the totem and prophesied and gave instruction as the totem. Ea was depicted clad in the fish's skin.

Animism, the other early stage of human development, also produced distinctive modes of thought. Men conceived that the world swarmed with spirits, that a spirit groaned in the wind-shaken tree, that the howling wind was an invisible spirit, that there were spirits in fountains, rivers, valleys, hills, and in ocean, and in all animals; and that a hostile spirit might possess an individual and change his nature. The sun and the moon were the abodes of spirits, or the vessels in which great spirits sailed over the sea of the sky; the stars were all spirits, the "host of heaven". These spirits existed in groups of seven, or groups of three, and the multiple of three, or in pairs, or operated as single individuals.

Although certain spirits might confer gifts upon mankind, they were at certain seasons and in certain localities hostile and vengeful, like the grass-green fairies in winter, or the earth-black elves when their gold was sought for in forbidden and secret places. These spirits were the artisans of creation and vegetation, like the Egyptian Khnumu and the Indian Rhibus; they fashioned the grass blades and the stalks of corn, but at times of seasonal change they might ride on their tempest steeds, or issue forth from flooding rivers and lakes. Man was greatly concerned about striking bargains with them to secure their services, and about propitiating them, or warding off their attacks with protective charms, and by performing "ceremonies of riddance". The ghosts of the dead, being spirits, were similarly propitious or harmful on occasion; as emissaries of Fate they could injure the living.


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