Gorillas in the Myth: A Duck Soup Reader

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When he struggles the winds are forced away from him, and they blow upon the earth. Sometimes he suffers terrible pain, and then his struggles are violent. This makes the winds wild, and they do damage on the earth. Then he feels better and goes to sleep, and the winds become quiet also. It was at one of his shrines, to which pilgrimages were made from great distances, that the Spaniards first saw to their surprise a cross surmounting the temple of this god of the wind, whence arose a legend that the Apostle Thomas had evangelised America.

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But, in fact, the pagan cross of Central America and Mexico was the symbol of the four cardinal points. Brinton has brought together a mass of evidence in support of a theory that the sanctity in which the number four is held by the American races is due to the adoration of the cardinal points, which are identified with the four winds, who in hero-myths are the four ancestors of the human race. The illustrations with which the argument is supported are numerous and valuable, but the argument itself is made to rest too strongly on an assumed primitive symbolism, whereas it suffices to show how the early notion of the flat world, as also square, would lead to the myth of the four winds blowing from the four corners, a myth often illustrated in ancient maps with an angel at each corner from whose mouth the wind issues.

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On this matter Dr. These tropes were truths to savage nations, and led on by that law of language which forced them to conceive everything as animate or inanimate, itself the product of a deeper law of thought which urges us to ascribe life to whatever has motion, they found no animal so appropriate for their purpose here as the bird. Therefore the Algonquins say that birds always make the winds, that they create the waterspouts, and that the clouds are the spreading and agitation of their wings; the Navajos that at each cardinal point stands a white swan, who is the spirit of the blasts; so also the Dakotas frequently explain the thunder as the sound of the cloud-bird flapping his wings; the lightning as the fire that flashes from his tracks, like the sparks which the buffalo scatters when he scours over a stony plain.

Estimates differ much as to the size of the Thunder-Bird. But among the Western Indians he is an immense eagle. The old and universal belief that stones were hurled by the Thunder-God is not so far-fetched as we, in our pride of science, might think, for the flints which are mistaken for thunderbolts, and which become objects [Pg 47] of adoration as well as charms, produce a flash when struck by the lightning. In the lightning flash man would see the descent of fire from heaven for his needs. That he should regard it, like water, as a living creature, with power to hurt or help him, is in keeping with attribution of life to all that moved.

Its apparent connection with the great source of heat would foster the feeling which expressed itself in fire-worship, with its curious survivals to modern times. No element was more calculated to excite awe in its seeming unrelation to the objects which produced it.

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Once secured, to guard it from extinction or theft was a serious duty, and everything from which it issued, trees as its hiding-place, since it came from the wood when rubbed, stones also, since sparks shot from them when struck, were held sacred. In the manifold myths about its origin one feature is common, that its seed was stolen, the chief agents probably as the messengers between earth and sky being birds, or men assuming the form of birds.

The Sioux Indians say that their first ancestor procured his fire from the sparks which a panther struck from the rocks as he bounded up a hill. But of examples from the lower culture, forerunners of the Zeus-defying Prometheus, Mr.

As in the conflict raging in the sky during gale or tempest, when the light and the darkness alternately prevail, the barbaric mind sees war waged between the heroes of the spirit-land who have carried their unsettled blood feuds thither, so in many myths the lightning is no comrade of the thunder, but its foe, the battle of bird with serpent. The resemblance of the lightning flash to the sharp, sudden, zigzag movements of the serpent, a creature so mysterious to barbaric man in its unlikeness to the beasts of the field, accounts for a myth the influence of which as a terrorising agent on human conduct is in course of rapid decay.

George and the Dragon. All the Aryan nations have among their legends, often exalted into epic themes, the story of a battle [Pg 49] between a hero and a monster.


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In each case the hero conquers, and releases treasures, or in some way renders succour to man, through his victory. In Hindu myth this battle is fought between Indra and Vritra. Thou thunderer, hast shattered with thy bolt the broad and massive cloud into fragments, and has sent down the waters that were confined in it to flow at will; verily thou alone possessest all power. Indra is the sun-god, armed with spears and arrows, for such did the solar rays sometimes appear to barbaric fancy.

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Indra attacks him, hurls his darts at him, they pierce the cloud-caverns, the waters are released, and drop upon the earth as rain. This explanation, which has many parallels in savage myth, is self-consistent as fitting into crude philosophy of personal life and volition in sun and cloud, and is fraught with deep truth of meaning in regions like the Punjaub, where drought brought famine in its train.

The Aryans were a pastoral people, their wealth being in flocks and herds. Their barbaric fancy, as kindred myths all the world over [Pg 51] testify, would find ample play in the fleeting and varied scenery of the cloud-flecked heavens, suggestive, as this would be, of bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial. To these children of the plain the heavens were a vast, wide expanse, over which roamed supra-mundane beasts, the two most prominent figures in their mythical zoology being the cow and the bull. The sun, giver of blessed light, was the bull of majesty and strength; the white clouds were cows, from whose swelling udders dropped the milk of heaven—the blessed rain.

But there were dark clouds also, clouds of night and clouds of storm, and within these lurked the monster-robber; into them he lured the herds, and withheld both light and rain from the children of men. To the sun-god, therefore, who smote the thief-dragon, Vritra, with his shaft, and set free the imprisoned cows, went up the shout of praise, the song of gratitude.

This myth survives in many legends of the Aryan race, and their family likeness is unmistakable. In its Latin guise it appears as Hercules [22] and Cacus, although the preciseness of detail narrated by Virgil, Livy, and other writers, has given it quasi-historical rank. Hercules, after his victory over Geryon, stops to rest by the Tiber, and while he is sleeping the three-headed monster, Cacus, steals some of his cattle, dragging them by their tails into his cavern in Mons Avertinus.

But the hero slays him and frees the cattle, a victory which the earlier Romans celebrated with solemn rites at the Ara Maxima. In the northern group we have the battle of Siegfried with the Niflungs, or Niblungs, and of Sigurd with the dragon Fafnir, who guards golden treasures; while, in the Edda , Thor goes fishing with the giant Hymir, and catches the demon Loki, whose foul brood are Hell, the wolf Fenri, and the Earth-girdling Serpent.

Amongst ourselves, Beowulf, hero of the poem of that name, attacks the dragon or fire-drake Grendel, who, with his troll-mother, haunts a gloomy marsh-land. Thence he stole forth at night to seize sleeping champions, taking them to his dwelling-place to devour them, and this in such numbers that scarce a man was left. One pale night, Beowulf awaited the coming of the monster, and, gripping him tightly, snapped his limbs asunder, so that he died. These brief illustrations would hardly be complete without some reference to our national saint.

Opinions differ as to his merits, Gibbon stigmatising him as a fraudulent army contractor, [23] while the researches of M. Ganneau seek to establish his [Pg 53] relation to the Egyptian Horus and Typhon. Be this as it may, the stirring old legend tells how George of Cappadocia delivered the city of Silene from a dragon dwelling in a lake hard by.


Nothing that the people could give him satisfied his insatiate maw, and in their despair they cast lots who among their dearest ones should be flung to the dread beast. But on the road the hero learns her sad errand, and bidding her fear not, he, making sign of the cross, brandishes his lance, attacks and transfixes the dragon, and leading him into Silene, beheads him in sight of all the people, who, with their king, are baptized to the glory of Him who made St.

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George the victor. While, however, the myth of Indra and Vritra has in its western variants remained for the most part a battle between heroes and dragons, the moral element rarely obscuring the physical features, it gave rise among the Iranians or ancient Persians to a definite theology, the strange fortunes of which have, as remarked above, profoundly affected Christendom.

Indra as victor, is an object of adoration and invested with purity and goodness; Vritra, as the enemy of men, is an object of dread, and invested with malice and evil. The one seeks to mar the earth which the other has made. Early in the history of the Asiatic Aryan tribes there had arisen a quarrel between the Brahmanic [Pg 55] and Iranian divisions.

The latter had become a quiet-loving, agricultural people, while the former remained marauding nomads, attacking and harassing their neighbours. In their plundering inroads they invoked the aid of spells and sacrifices, offering the sacred soma-juice to their gods, and nerving themselves for the fray by deep draughts of the intoxicating stuff. In the Old Testament, Yahweh is spoken of as the author of both; [26] the angels, whether charged with weal or woe, are his messengers. In the Iliad Zeus dispenses both:—.

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Vritra survived in Ahriman, who, like him, is represented as a serpent; and in Ormuzd we have the phonetic descendant of Ahura-mazda. Now, it was with this dualism, this transformed survival of the sun and cloud myth, that the Jews came into association during their memorable exile in Babylon. Prior to that time their theology, as hinted above, had no devil in it. But in that belief in spirits which they held in common with all semi-civilised races, as a heritage from barbarous ancestors, there were the elements out of which such a personality might be readily evolved.

In all his missions he acts as the intelligent and loyal servant of Yahweh. But although therefore not regarded as bad himself, the character and functions with which he was credited made easy the transition from such theories about him to theories of him as inherently evil, as the enemy of goodness, and, therefore, of God.

He who, like Vritra, was an object of dread, came to be regarded as the incarnation of evil, the author and abettor of things harmful to man. Persian dualism gave concrete form to this conception, and from the time of the Exile we find Satan as the Jewish Ahriman, the antagonist of God. They haunt lonely spots, often assume the shape of beasts, and it is their presence in the bodies of men and women which is the cause of madness and other diseases. From the period when the Apocryphal books, especially those having traces of Persian influence, were written, [29] this doctrine of an arch-fiend with his [Pg 58] army of demons received increasing impetus.

It passed on without check into the Christian religion, and wherever this spread the heathen gods, like the devas of Brahmanism among the Iranians, were degraded into demons, and swelled the vast crowd of evil spirits let loose to torment and ruin mankind.

This doctrine of demonology, it should be remembered, was but the elaborated form of ancestral belief in spirits referred to above.