An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 56

It was probably not until men took to the sea that the god of the waters developed to the full his protective or destructive tendencies. Thus the raising or allaying of storms, the granting of favourable winds and prosperous voyages, would naturally vest in the sea-god, once navigation became general. His relation to the other gods would then become a mere matter of mythic rearrangement and a niche would be found for him in the pantheon. As the sun-god or wind-god was supreme in the sky, so was he supreme in the waters; nor did his dominion stop with the sea alone, but every estuary, lake, river, or even brook, was beneath his sway and peopled by his subjects.


The deity who presides over the moon is in most pantheons full of mythological interest. Primitive ideas of the luminary regarded it as equally the cause of vegetable growth with the sun; the work which was accomplished by the sun through the day was, argued early man, continued by the moon at night. All primitive time-reckoning was calculated on a lunar basis, and as time-reckoning among savages assumes the character of[Pg 127] science, this would assist in bestowing upon the spirit which presided over the moon a certain reputation for wisdom. Primary lunar spirits are not as a rule very high in the scale of god-like evolution.

As the moon is associated with the dampness and dews of night, an ancient and widespread belief connects her with water. Thus in folklore she is universally associated with rain; but she has also an evil reputation as the distributer of miasmatic fogs and exhalations, because these more generally make their appearance during the hours of her reign. The Mexicans invariably confounded the words citatli, the moon, and atl, water. As representing water, the universal mother, the moon was regarded as the patroness of fertility. She is also often the goddess of love, ruling over the hours of night, generally sacred to courtship. With some of the more primitive peoples she is the mother of ghosts and all such nocturnal abominations.

Her connexion with wisdom has been touched upon. This is perhaps best instanced in the Egyptian moon-god Thoth, who, probably because he was supposed to keep the records of the Nile inundations, supposed to be under the influence of the moon, was also regarded as god of writing, and therefore, by inference, as god of wisdom. Diana, or Artemis, the chaste huntress of the Greeks and Romans, is, like many moon-goddesses, a patron of human fertility and love. But she is more; as one of the ancient moon-goddesses, and therefore connected with the old lunar calendar, she was a deity of the harvest. Her character as a huntress is a little obscure. Some water-goddesses, like the Egyptian Neith, possess the lightning arrow, symbolical of the thunder-cloud from whence the lightning issues; and it may be that Artemis possessed the bow and arrow simply because she was sister of Apollo, and, by analogy, if the sun-god possessed these weapons, so must his sister, the moon-goddess. Again, it may be that she possessed them as a goddess of death. It is strange to find a lunar goddess connected with the chase, that rôle being nearly always filled by the thunder- or wind-god.[5]

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We have seen how a compact for their mutual weal arose between men and the gods when an agricultural elementary basis had been arrived at; but ere the evolution of departmental deities of agriculture, and of the various grains and plants cultivated, these appear to possess separate guardian spirits. In dealing with the great class of corn-spirits Sir James Frazer distinguished between the spirit and the god as follows. He says: