A FEW tens of years ago it was all-important to understand and explain the brotherhood and blood-bond of Aryan nations, and their relation to the Semitic race; to discover and set forth the meaning of that which in mental work, historic strivings, and spiritual ideals ties the historic nations to one another. At the present time this work is done, if not completely, at least measurably well, and a new work awaits us, to demonstrate that there is a higher and a mightier bond,--the relationship of created things with one another, and their inseverable connection with That which some men reverence as God, but which other men call the Unknowable, the Unseen.
This new work, which is the necessary continuation of the first, and which alone can give it completeness and significance, will be achieved when we have established the science of mythology.
Of course all that may be attempted in a volume like the present is to throw out a few hints, and to mention some of the uses of mythology as a science.
There is a large body of myths and folk-tales already published in Europe, and still a great number as yet uncollected. Many of these tales are of remarkable beauty. They are of deep interest both to young and old, and nowhere do they enjoy more delicate appreciation than among educated people in America and England. The delight in a beautiful and wonderful story is the very highest mental pleasure for a child, and great even for a grown man; but the explanation of it (if explanation there be) and the nature of its heroes (if that can be discovered) are dear to the mind of a mature person of culture. Much has been written touching the heroes of folk-tales, as well as the characters in Aryan mythology, but it appears to have produced small effect; for to most readers it seems unproven, and founded mainly on the views of each writer. This is the reason why the chief, almost the only, value found in folk-tales, as yet, is the story itself, with its simple beauty, incomparable grotesqueness, and marvellous adventures.
The great majority even of the least modified tales of Europe have mainly substituted heroes,--sons of kings, tsars, merchants, poor men, soldiers,--so that in most cases the birth, occupation, or name of the present hero gives no clew to the original hero of the tale; but incidents do. The incidents are often an indication of what kind of person the original hero must have been.
A few of the tales in this volume have preserved elemental heroes; and this is a fact of great value, for it points to a similarity with the American system of mythology.
We have in the present volume Raven,--not the common bird, but that elemental power which, after having been overcome, turned into the common raven of to-day, and flew off to the mountains; Whirlwind and South Wind are both heroes,--one as a leading, the other as an important secondary, character in two of the Russian stories. We have two brothers Wind, in "The Cuirassier and the Horned Princess," in whom the personal character of Wind is well maintained. The steed, fire-eating and wise, of the Magyars, which appears also in Russian and other Slav tales, always mangy and miserable except in action, is a very significant character, whose real nature one may hope to demonstrate. But we have no tale in which it is clear who all the characters are; the modifying influences were too great and long-continued to permit that. Though myth-tales are, perhaps, more interesting for the majority of modern readers in their present form, they will not have their full interest for science till it is shown who most of the actors are under their disguises.
This is the nearest task of mythology.
There are masterpieces in literature filled with myths, inspired with myth conceptions of many kinds, simply colored by the life of the time and the nations among which these masterpieces were written and moulded to shape by artists, made strong from the spirit of great, simple people, as unknown to us as the nameless heroes who perished before Agamemnon. How much mythology is there in the Iliad and the Odyssey, in the Æneid, in the Divine Comedy of Dante, in the works of the other three great Italian poets? How much in Paradise Lost? How could "King Lear" and "Midsummer Night's Dream," or the "Idylls of the King" have been written without Keltic mythology? Many of these literary masterpieces have not merely myths in their composition as a sentence has words, but the earlier ones are enlarged or modified myth-tales of those periods, while the later ones are largely modelled on and inspired by the earlier.
The early chronicles of nations are as strikingly associated with mythology as are the masterpieces of literature. Omitting others, one case may be noted here,--that of the voluminous Gaelic chronicles and the so-called historical tales of Ireland, which, in the guise of history, give mythology, and preserve for coming investigators a whole buried Pantheon.
The service of the science of mythology will be great in connection with the myth-tales of nations, with literature, and with early history; but its weightiest service will be rendered in the domain of religion, for without mythology there can be no thorough understanding of any religion on earth, either in its inception or its growth.
But how is this science from which men may receive such service to be founded?
In one way alone: by obtaining from races outside of the Aryan and Semitic their myths, their beliefs, their view of the world; this done, the rest will follow as a result of intelligent labor. But the great battle is in the first part of the work, for the inherent difficulty of the task has been increased by Europeans, who have exterminated great numbers among the best primitive races, partially civilized or rather degraded others, and rendered the remainder distrustful and not easily approached on the subject of their myths and ethnic beliefs.
As to the collection of these myths and beliefs, the following may be stated:--
There is everywhere a sort of selvage of short tales and anecdotes, small information about ghosts and snakes, among all these races, which are easily obtained; and most Europeans seem to think that when they have collected some of these trivial things they have all that the given people possess. But they are greatly mistaken. All these people have something better. There was not a single stock of Indians in America which did not possess, in beautiful forms, the elements of an extensive literature, with a religion and philosophy which would have thrown light on many beginnings of Aryan and Semitic thought, a knowledge of which in so many cases is now lost to us, but which we hope to recover in time. The same may be said of other primitive races, still unbroken, unmodified; and though much has been lost, still enough remains to serve our purpose fully, if civilized men instead of slaying "savages," directly and indirectly, will treat them as human beings, and not add to the labor of those workers who in the near future will surely endeavor, singly or in small groups, to study the chief primitive races of the earth, and win from them, not short insignificant odds and ends of information, but great masses of material; for the educated world may rest assured that these races possess in large volume some of the most beautiful productions of the human mind, and facts that are not merely of great, but of unique, value.
In the introduction to my volume, "Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland," I endeavored to explain in brief what the myths of America are, especially the Creation-myths, referring only to those which I myself have collected. I stated that, "All myths have the same origin, and that all run parallel up to a certain point, which may be taken as the point to which the least developed peoples have risen" (page 27). I do not know any better way of illustrating this than to bring into evidence myths of the Morning-star. The Indians have a great many myths in which the Morning-star figures as the Light-bringer,--the same office as that indicated by the Latin word Lucifer; and here I may be permitted to present a short chapter of my personal experience with reference to that word and the Morning-star.
I remember well the feelings roused in my mind at mention or sight of the name Lucifer during the earlier years of my life. It stood for me as the name of a being stupendous, dreadful in moral deformity, lurid, hideous, and mighty. I remember also the surprise with which when I had grown somewhat older and begun to study Latin, I came upon the name in Virgil, where it means the Light-bringer, or Morning-star,--the herald of the sun. Many years after I had found the name in Virgil, I spent a night at the house of a friend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, right at the shore of Lake Michigan. The night was clear but without a moon,--a night of stars, which is the most impressive of all nights, vast, brooding, majestic. At three o'clock in the morning I woke, and being near an uncurtained window, rose and looked out. Rather low in the east was the Morning-star, shining like silver, with a bluish tinge of steel. I looked towards the west; the great infinity was filled with the hosts of heaven, ranged behind this Morning-star. I saw at once the origin of the myth which grew to have such tremendous moral meaning, because the Morning-star was not in this case the usher of the day but the chieftain of night, the Prince of Darkness, the mortal enemy of the Lord of Light. I returned to bed knowing that the battle in heaven would soon begin. I rose when the sun was high next morning. All the world was bright, shining and active, gladsome and fresh, from the rays of the sun; the kingdom of light was established; but the Prince of Darkness and all his confederates had vanished, cast down from the sky, and to the endless eternity of God their places will know them no more in that night again. They are lost beyond hope or redemption, beyond penance or prayer.
I have in mind at this moment two Indian stories of the Morning-star,--one Modoc, the other Delaware. The Modoc story is very long, and contains much valuable matter; but the group of incidents that I wish to refer to here are the daily adventures and exploits of a personage who seems to be no other than the sky with the sun in it. This personage is destroyed every evening. He always gets into trouble, and is burned up; but in his back is a golden disk, which neither fire nor anything in the world can destroy. From this disk his body is reconstituted every morning; and all that is needed for the resurrection is the summons of the Morning-star, who calls out, "It is time to rise, old man; you have slept long enough." Then the old man springs new again from his ashes through virtue of the immortal disk and the compelling word of the star.
Now, the Morning-star is the attendant spirit or "medicine" of the personage with the disk, and cannot escape the performance of his office; he has to work at it forever. So the old man cannot fail to rise every morning. As the golden disk is no other than the sun, the Morning-star of the Modocs is the same character as the Lucifer of the Latins.
The Delaware story, also a long one, has many grotesque and striking elements. I will tell it in a closely compressed form. The person who is the hero of this tale has a wife, who, while he is absent hunting, turns into a man-eater,--becomes a devouring agency with a mania to swallow all flesh, but has a special and craving mania to eat up her own husband first of all; so she runs to the woods to find him. Informed by a wise, talking dog, a species of brother of his, who had sprung out to anticipate the woman, the man rushes off southward, runs with all speed till he reaches a deep mighty river, where is an old man who makes a bridge by stretching his neck across the water. The hunted husband speaks kindly, and implores for means to cross or his wife will devour him. The old man lies down with his shoulder on one bank, stretches his neck, makes it flat like a horse's neck, to give safe passage; soon his head is on the other bank, and the man walks over. The old bridge-maker promises to delay the woman, and then throw her into the river, where she will be eaten by monsters,--all save her stomach, in which her life resides; that will float down with the current, come to life, and the woman will be as well and furious as ever, unless the stomach is dragged out, cut to pieces, and burned.
The hunted man hastens, runs westward by the bank of the river, runs till he comes to two aunts who are witches. They promise to help him and kill the pursuer. Soon after, when the old man has shortened his neck and is sitting on his own side of the river, the wife comes up in hot pursuit, talks roughly, tries to hurry the old pontifex; but he will not hurry, waits, and then stretches his neck, putting the narrow side upward; it is no wider than the woman's feet. She storms, but he says that being old he might break his neck were he to give the broad side as a path; she must walk on the narrow side, and carefully too. She begins to cross, but in the middle of the river grows restive and angry. The old man jerks his neck to one side; she falls to the water and is eaten right away, all save her stomach, which floats with the current. But the aunts, the two witches, are watching; they see and pull out the stomach, cut it up, and burn the life of that man-eater.
The man travels westward till he sees a young woman gathering branches for fuel. He speaks to her, is pleased; she is mild-eyed, kind-looking. He asks her to marry him; she says she is willing if he can live with her grandmother, who is very thick, very ugly, and malicious. He goes home with the young woman; they are married.
Soon after the marriage the old woman took her son-in-law to hunt on an island in a lake. They landed. She said, "Go down there," pointing to a place; "I will drive the game." He started, and when half way, looked back; the old woman was in the canoe paddling to the other shore. He called; she would not listen, and left him alone on the island. There was no escape. When the sun had gone down and darkness came, the water of the lake began to rise, and flooded the place. He selected the highest tree, and began to climb,--the water all the time rising; he climbed, and continued to climb. About three o'clock in the morning all the trees on the island, except that tree, were covered. Around on every side were great hungry savage-eyed creatures, rising with the water, waiting to eat the man. He looked, saw the Morning-star, and cried out: "When I was young the Morning-star appeared to me in a dream, and said that if ever I should be in distress he would save me."
The star heard the call, turned to a small boy standing sentry at his door, and said, "Who is that shouting on the island?"
"That," said the boy, "is the old woman's son-in-law. She put him there. He says you appeared to him in a dream and promised to save him."
"I did, and I will." The Morning-star came forth from his house and called: "Let daylight come!"
Dawn came that moment; the water began to fall, and at sunrise the island was dry. The man was saved, came down, went to the landing-place, and hid in the bushes. Soon the old woman's canoe struck the shore; the man heard her say: "Well, I suppose the larger bones of my son-in-law are under the tree. I must go and eat the marrow." When she had gone far enough, he sprang into the canoe and paddled away. The old woman turned, saw the escape of her son-in-law, and cried: "Come back! I'll play no more tricks."
The man paddled to the other shore, and went to his wife. The old woman was alone, not able to escape. When darkness came, the lake began to rise. She climbed the highest tree, climbed till the water was nearing the top, and the hungry, terrible creatures were waiting to eat her. Then she called out towards the east: "When I was young the Morning-star appeared to me in a dream, and said he would help me out of distress."
The Morning-star heard, and asked his boy: "Is that man on the island yet?"
"Oh," said the boy, "the man is at home; the old woman herself is on the island now. She says that you appeared to her in a dream, and promised to save her from distress."
"I never appeared to that old woman," said the star. "I will not hurry daylight to-day."
The water rose till the old woman was on the highest point of the tree that would bear her. The water raised all the crowd of hungry, terrible creatures. They tore her to pieces, devoured her.
So the Delawares on the Atlantic, who enjoy seniority among the Algonkin,--the most widely-extended Indian stock of America,--agree with the Modocs, near the Pacific, in the theory of the Morning-star, which for them, as for the Latins, was the Light-bearer. The opposite view, to which I refer in the night-scene at Milwaukee, gave birth to the myth of the struggle of the stars with the sun for possession of the sky. Now, a combination of these two myths--the one in which the Morning-star is the Light-bearer being the earlier--gives us a third, in which the Morning-star is not merely an opponent, but a rebel. This third myth, after it had increased in age, came to be used in describing, not an event in the sky, looked at variously by primitive men, but an event in the moral world; and the stories of the Morning-star and the sun were transferred from the fields of heaven to the kingdom of the soul. This done, Milton had at hand the splendid mythologic material and accessories which he used with such power in Paradise Lost.
I know no American myth in which the Morning-star is represented as hostile to the sun; the discovery of one would be very interesting and valuable, as showing that the primitive people of this continent might possibly have worked out a physical myth like that made in the Eastern hemisphere, and afterwards spiritualized till it was given the meaning which we find in the pages of Milton.
But whatever the future may bring, the present American Morning-star myth is interesting; for it shows a complete parallelism with Aryan mythology as far as it goes,--that is, to the highest point reached by the non-Aryan tribes of America.
It should be remembered that whatever be the names of the myth-tale heroes at present, the original heroes were not human. They were not men and women, though in most cases the present heroes or heroines bear the names of men and women, or children; they perform deeds which no man could perform, which only one of the forces of Nature could perform, if it had the volition and desires of a person. This is the great cause of wonderful deeds in myth-tales.
The following Indian myth, in which we know exactly who the actors were, illustrates this fact very well. I give the myth from memory, and in a compressed form, making first the statement that in a part of eastern Oregon and Washington, where I found it, there are two winds, as the Indians informed me, which are all, or practically all, that blow in that region. One of these is a northeast, the other a southwest wind. The Indians subdivide each one of them into five. Each of these five is a little different from the other,--that is, there are five kinds of southwest winds, and five kinds of northeast winds. Each has a proper name describing its character; and in telling the myth these names are used, just as the name Ivan the Fool, and Mirko the king's son are used in Russia and Hungary. The Northeast brothers have a sister more harassing and cruel than they,--cold, damp, fitful. She also has a name describing her character. The five Southwest winds have grandparents very old, who live in a hut by themselves. They have no sister; but the eldest has a wife, brought by him to Oregon from her birthplace in the Southern seas.
One time the Northeast winds challenged the others to a wrestling-match, in which whoever should be thrown would have his head cut off. The Southwest brothers were not free to refuse; they had to accept. All the details of this match are described precisely as if the opponents were men and not winds. The Southwest brothers were thrown, every one, and each had his head cut off; all were killed, and now the Northeast brothers were lords of that region. The old feeble grandparents were all of the family left in Oregon. The young wife went home to her parents and people in the Southern seas. The victorious brothers did as they pleased,--when they wished to knock any one down they did so; but the crowning wickedness of the victorious family was the malice of the sister against the aged grandparents. She came every morning to their hut and insulted them in a manner that will not bear recital. Weeping and helpless, they endured the foulest abuse. The evil sister rejoiced, the wicked brothers rejoiced, and all men besides were suffering. Some time after the widow had returned to her home in the Southern seas a son was born to the late eldest brother,--a wonderful boy. This posthumous child grew not by years but by days; and when he was three weeks old he had attained full growth. He was a hero of awful strength; nothing could resist him. He asked about his father; his mother told how his fathers had perished (the brothers of a father are fathers too in the Indian system) at the hands of the Northeast brothers. "I will go to avenge my fathers," said he, and started.
He reached the coast near the Columbia River, which he ascended; when at the Cascades he began to try his strength. He pulled out the greatest trees with their roots, overturned cliffs, and went on his way with delight. At last he arrived at the land where his fathers had ruled, and went first in the early morning to the hut of his great grandparents. They were very weak and wretched, but still they were able to tell of what they had suffered from the sister. "She will soon be here," said they; so he lay in waiting.
She came, and was preparing to begin her insults when he seized her and put her to a painful death. Then he challenged the five wicked brothers to a wrestling-match, threw them all, and cut their heads off. The whole country rejoiced. No one felt pain. The young hero ruled that land to the delight of all. This hero was not a month old, and since we know the characters in the story, we know that the story is true.
When, in Gaelic, we find heroes like the son of Fin MacCumhail, Fialan, who at the age of three years slew whole armies, with their champion leaders,  and the Shee an Gannon, who was born in the morning, named at noon, and went in the evening to ask his daughter of the King of Erin; or in Russian, Ivan Tsarevich,  nine days old, who after three sleeps of three days' and nights' duration each, went in search of Peerless Beauty, his bride,--we may feel sure that we are dealing mediately or immediately with that category of powers to which old-time divinities belong, the same race of personages as the Wind brothers of Oregon.
Now we may leave American myths and say a few words of the nations to whom the three groups of myth-tales belong,--the Russians, the Chekhs, and the Magyars. It is not easy to describe any one of them in a brief space, for each is remarkable in character and history.
The Russians are difficult to describe, not only because they are many, but because of their position. The key-note of this position has sounded through their whole history, from the time of Olga and Vladimir, in the Kieff period, to the present day. Listening to this note, Russian leaders have gained political skill, while the people have confirmed their national instinct and endured burdens which they would endure only for the thing which that key-note describes. To tell what it is we must make a digression.
The first political work of the world soundly done, as men of this age, with minds of modern situation, are able to see, was the work of Rome. Rome was the first power to assimilate peoples, to destroy provincialism, to make a State, in the great modern sense of the word. After the fall of Rome as a political power, with its work done and delivered, there followed a still greater,--a new Rome, with a wider ambition, and with plans further reaching than those of its predecessor. This new Rome saw standing before its face, in the East of Europe, the youngest brothers of the Aryan race--the Slavs--still unconverted. The new Rome was as different from the old as two things may be, save in this, that both had strong will to rule. The difference was that old Rome ruled in the name of man and better social order, while new Rome ruled in the name of God and morality; but new Rome was as firmly fixed in purpose to rule by all the weapons that strong men may use in the world, as was old Rome.
It happened in history that the Teutonic branch of the Aryans fell heir to the Roman civilization of the West, and acquired the administrative experience and pride of power personal to lords of the earth. These Teutons, or Germans, became the agents through whom for a long period the Catholic Church acted most frequently in dealing with Eastern Europeans; and the Germans were determined to be the exclusive dispensers and extenders of Christianity in that quarter, acquiring at the same time temporal lordship and lands for themselves. This produced a conflict along the whole eastern line,--on one side a defensive struggle of Slav against German; on the other, that incursive and attacking movement of the Germans, continued age after age under various forms and guises, but which is as real to-day and as active as in times of its greatest intensity, though veiled in official circles with diplomatic tact. On the northern, or left wing of their advance, the Germans destroyed ethnologically; that is, they conquered and Germanized the Slavs from places not far from Hamburg to a considerable distance east of Berlin. Next they destroyed Poland; for they gained possession of the original lands of the Commonwealth on the Baltic, and pushed the Poles eastward to make good their losses at the expense of the Russians. The loss to the Slavs of the Polish lands on the Baltic was immense; and to make the catastrophe more sorrowful for a man of that stock, the Slavs failed on the south, in the kingdom of Great Moravia, which with the present Moravia included the dominions of Hungary, and later on failed from the Danube everywhere southward as far as Slavs had a dwelling.
When all the Western Slavs had fallen,--not because they were less worthy individually, less brave, or less wise as separate persons than their invaders, but because they were younger and greener in political growth,--there remained in the East still two Slav nations (Poland and Russia); and the opposition of these forms the great tragic story of modern ages. And the most remarkable concomitant of this tragedy is, that the cause of it is misunderstood by most of us. It is thought, not only widely but well-nigh universally, in Western Europe and America that the first cause of the downfall of Poland was Russia; while the real causes were first and mightiest the peculiar make-up of Polish society, coupled with the unceasing activity of Germans in conquering and subjecting everything east of them by all the weapons that can be used either in peace or in war.
If Russia and Poland had both received Christianity from the same source, there would have been strong reasons for them to grow into one political body; and they might have been able to do so. If both had received Christianity from the East, as Russia did, they might have stood shoulder to shoulder in brotherly defence against the Germanic West. If both had received Christianity directly from the West, they might have prevented the Germans from crusading to Christianize the East at the expense of its land and independence.
When one thinks of the enthusiastic and kindly labor of the Irish missionaries in the West, and of Cyril and Methodius among the Slavs, it seems hard to believe that the Irish and Greeks had the same Master in mind as the iron-clad monks on the Baltic. And they had not; for the Germans took the lands and persons of the converts, while the Irish and the Slav missionaries had no thought for themselves.
Poland fell, and Russia remains the one Slav State really independent; and Russia remains because, as I have just stated, the Russian people have in all centuries listened to and understood the key-note of their position,--which is: No foreign influence shall exist in Russia under any form whatever. To maintain this position the Russians have sacrificed more than any people in Europe; and in many senses they have accomplished more.
The corollary to the above sentence, and which with it completes the abstract statement of Russia's whole policy, is: The West of Europe shall not dominate the East.
To the Russian people belong the myth-tales in the first division of this volume. I had hoped to include specimens from Little and White Russia,--that is, from those parts of Russia that were once under the dominion of Poland; but lack of space has confined me to tales from Great Russia,--that portion of the Empire which first formed around Moscow.
The Chekhs of Bohemia are Slavs more nearly related in speech to the Poles than to the Russians. Twice have the Chekhs been very prominent in history,--once in the wars which followed the death of John Huss; and again during the Thirty Years' War, in which they suffered beyond any other people. Reduced from three million to eight hundred thousand in number, they were supposed to be extinguished as Slavs; but in spite of all emigration they have regained more than their old numbers, and are to-day if possible more determined than ever to preserve their historical identity. Take them all in all, there is not a people of more marked character, nor one whose history has greater claims on the student. In fact, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries cannot be studied at all, in any true sense, without faithful attention to the Chekhs. To them belong our second group of tales.
The tales of the third group belong to the Magyars (the ruling race of Hungary), who exert more influence than any people of four times their numbers in Europe. Though forming not more, or in any case little more, than one third of the population of Hungary,--say five and a half to six millions,--they rule the other peoples of the kingdom, and possess preponderant power in the Empire of Austria-Hungary. They have directed its foreign policy for the last twenty years,--a fact of great significance. For though foreign affairs have at all times been more important for Austria than perhaps any State in Europe, they have never been more important than at present; and still they are intrusted to the Magyars,--a race forming little more than one sixth of the people of the Empire. The reason is not far to seek.
The Magyars, a non-Aryan people from the Ural-Altai regions, arrived in the places they now occupy about one thousand years ago, at the period of a desperate struggle between the Germans and the Slav kingdom of Great Moravia,--a struggle as envenomed as that between Carthage and Rome, but in which the Slavs seemed to be holding their own very well. At this juncture the Magyars struck Great Moravia in the rear with all their force, secured victory for the Germans, and inserted themselves as a dividing wedge between the Southern and the Northern Slavs.
The fall of Great Moravia closed the way to the political independence of the Western Slavs; after them, there remained in the whole Slav world but the Poles and the Russians with the possibility of political power.
There are no people so well qualified by their history and hopes to carry out the policy of Austria, and stand against Russia, as the Magyars. Politicians by genius and training, lords of the land by position, their whole existence depends on managing and balancing various forces. Having no personal sympathy for the Germans, looking down on the Slavs, they are a bitter necessity to the first, and they divide, rule, and dominate the second within the kingdom; outside the kingdom it is their policy not to permit the Slavs to develop, unless as satellites of Austria-Hungary.
I regret my inability to include Polish myth-tales in this collection, owing to want of space. Should the present volume meet with favor, it will be followed during the coming year by another, in which a good deal of attention will be given the Poles,--a most interesting and, in very truth, a little known people.
Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology.
Washington, D. C., October 29, 1890.