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the worship of the Bull.

Finally it has been pointed out, and there may be some
real connection in the coincidence, that in the quite early
years of Christianity the Fish came in as an accepted symbol
of Jesus Christ. Considering that after the domination
of Taurus and Aries, the Fish (Pisces) comes next in suc-
cession as the Zodiacal sign for the Vernal Equinox, and
is now the constellation in which the Sun stands at that
period, it seems not impossible that the astronomical change
has been the cause of the adoption of this new symbol.

Anyhow, and allowing for possible errors or exaggera-
tions, it becomes clear that the travels of the Sun through
the belt of constellations which forms the Zodiac must
have had, from earliest times, a profound influence on
the generation of religious myths and legends. To say
that it was the only influence would certainly be a mistake.
Other causes undoubtedly contributed. But it was a main
and important influence. The origins of the Zodiac are
obscure; we do not know with any certainty the reasons
why the various names were given to its component sections,
nor can we measure the exact antiquity of these names; but
— ^pre-supposing the names of the signs as once given — it
is not difficult to imagine the growth of legends connected
with the Sun's course among them.

Of all the ancient divinities perhaps Hercules is the one
whose role as a Sungod is most generally admitted. The
helper of gods and men, a mighty Traveller, and invoked
everywhere as the Saviour, his labors for the good of the
world became ultimately defined and systematized as
twelve and corresponding in number to the signs of the
Zodiac. It is true that this systematization only took place
at a late period, probably in Alexandria; also that the
identification of some of the Labors with the actual
signs as we have them at present is not always clear. But


considering the wide prevalence of the Hercules myth over
the ancient world and the very various astronomical systems
it must have been connected with in its origin, this lack of
exact correspondence is hardly to be wondered at.

The Labors of Hercules which chiefly interest us are:
(i) The capture of the Bull, (2) the slaughter of the Lion,
(3) the destruction of the Hydra, (4) of the Boar, (5) the
cleansing of the stables of Augeas, (6) the descent into
Hades and the taming of Cerberus. The first of these is
in line with the Mithraic conquest of the Bull; the Lion is
of course one of the most prominent constellations of the
Zodiac, and its conquest is obviously the work of a Saviour
of mankind; while the last four labors connect themselves
very naturally with the Solar conflict in winter against
the powers of darkness. The Boar (4) we have seen
already as the image of Typhon, the prince of darkness;
the Hydra (3) was said to be the offspring of Typhon;
the descent into Hades (6) — generally associated with
Hercules' struggle with and victory over Death — links
on to the descent of the Sun into the underworld, and its
long and doubtful strife with the forces of winter; and
the cleansing of the stables of Augeas (5) has the same
signification. It appears in fact that the stables of Augeas
was another name for the sign of Capricorn through which
the Sun passes at the Winter solstice' — the stable of course
being an underground chamber — and the myth was that
there, in this lowest tract and backwater of the Ecliptic
all the malarious and evil influences of the sky were collected,
and the Sungod came to wash them away (December was the
height of the rainy season in Judaea) and cleanse the year
towards its rebirth.

It should not be forgotten too that even as a child in the
cradle Hercules slew two serpents sent for his destruc-
tion — the serpent and the scorpion as autumnal constella-
tions figuring always as enemies of the Sungod — to which
1 See diagram of Zodiac, supra, p. 37.


may be compared the power given to his disciples by Jesus^
"to tread on serpents and scorpions." Hercules also as
a Sungod compares curiously with Samson (mentioned
above, ii, p. 27), but we need not dwell on all the
elaborate analogies that have been traced^ between these two

The Jesus-story, it will now be seen, has a great number
of correspondences with the stories of former Sungods and
with the actual career of the Sun through the heavens — so
many indeed that they cannot well be attributed to
mere coincidence or even to the blasphemous wiles of the
Devil! Let us enumerate some of these. There are (i)
the birth from a Virgin mother; (2) the birth in a stable
(cave or underground chamber); and (3) on the 25th De-
cember (just after the winter solstice). There is (4) the
Star in the East (Sirius) and (5) the arrival of the Magi
(the "Three Kings"); there is (6) the threatened Massacre
of the Innocents, and the consequent flight into a distant
country (told also of Krishna and other Sungods). There
are the Church festivals of (7) Candlemas (2nd February),
with processions of candles to symbolize the growing
light; of (8) Lent, or the arrival of Spring; of (9) Easter
Day (normally on the 2Sth March) to celebrate the crossing
of the Equator by the Sun; and (10) simultaneously the
outburst of lights at the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. There
is (11) the Crucifixion and death of the Lamb-God, on Good
Friday, three days before Easter; there are (12) the
nailing to a tree, (13) the empty grave, (14) the glad
Resurrection (as in the cases of Osiris, Attis and others) ;
there are (15) the twelve disciples (the Zodiacal signs);
and (16) the betrayal by one of the twelve. Then later
there is (17) Midsummer Day, the 24th June, dedicated to
the Nativity of John the Baptist, and corresponding

1 Luke X. 19.

2 See Doane's Bibk Myths, ch. viii, (New York, 1882.)


to Christmas Day; there are the festivals of (i8) the
Assumption of the Virgin (15th August) and of (19) the
Nativity of the Virgin (8th September), corresponding
to the movement of the god through Virgo; there is the con-
flict of Christ and his disciples with the autumnal aster-
isms, (20) the Serpent and the Scorpion; and finally
there is the curious fact that the Church (21) dedicates the
very day of the winter solstice (when any one may very
naturally doubt the rebirth of the Sun) to St. Thomas, who
doubted the truth of the Resurrection!

These are some of, and by no means all, the coincidences
in question. But they are sufficient, I think, to prove —
even allowing for possible margins of error — the truth
of our general contention. To go into the parallelism
of the careers of Krishna, the Indian Sungod, and Jesus
would take too long; because indeed the correspondence
is so extraordinarily close and elaborate.^ I propose, how-
ever, at the close of this chapter, to dwell now for a
moment on the Christian festival of the Eucharist, partly
on account of its connection with the derivation from
the astronomical rites and Nature-celebrations already
alluded to, and partly on account of the light which the fes-
tival generally, whether Christian or Pagan, throws on the
origins of Religious Magic — a subject I shall have to deal
with in the next chapter.

I have already (Ch. II, p. 25) mentioned the Eucharistic
rite held in commemoration of Mithra, and the indignant
ascription of this by Justin Martyr to the wiles of the Devil.
Justin Martyr clearly had no doubt about the resemblance
of the Mithraic to the Christian ceremony. A Sac-
ramental meal, as mentioned a few pages back, seems
to have been held by the worshipers of Attis^ in com-
memoration of their god; and the 'mysteries' of the

1 See Robertson's Christianity and Mythology, Part II, pp. 129-302;
also Doane's Bible Myths, ch. xxviii, p. 278.

2 See Frazer's Golden Bough, Part IV, p. 229.


Pagan cults generally appear to have included rites —
sometimes half-savage, sometimes more aesthetic — in which
a dismembered animal was eaten, or bread and wine (the
spirits of the Corn and the Vine) were consumed, as repre-
senting the body of the god whom his devotees desired
to honor. But the best example of this practice is
afforded by the rites of Dionysus, to which I will devote
a few lines. Dionysus, like other Sun or Nature deities,
was born of a Virgin (Semele or Demeter) untainted by any
earthly husband; and born on the 25th December. He was
nurtured in a Cave, and even at that early age was
identified with the Ram or Lamb, into whose form he was
for the time being changed. At times also he was wor-
shiped in the form of a Bull.^ He travelled far and
wide; and brought the great gift of wine to mankind.^
He was called Liberator, and Saviour. His grave "was
shown at Delphi in the inmost shrine of the temple of Apollo.
Secret offerings were brought thither, while the women
who were celebrating the feast woke up the new-born
god. . . . Festivals of this kind in celebration of the
extinction and resurrection of the deity were held (by
women and girls only) amid the mountains at night,
every third year, about the time of the shortest day. The
rites, intended to express the excess of grief and joy at the
death and reappearance of the god, were wild even
to savagery, and the women who performed them were
hence known by the expressive names of Bacchae, Maenads,
and Thyiades. They wandered through woods and moun-
tains, their flying locks crowned with ivy or snakes, brand-
ishing wands and torches, to the hollow sounds of the drum,
or the shrill notes of the flute, with wild dances and
insane cries and jubilation. The victims of the sacrifice,

1 The Golden Bough, Part II, Book II, p. 164.

2 "I am the trtie Vine," says the Jesus of the fourth gospel, perhaps
with an implicit and hostile reference to the cult of Dionysus — in
which Robertson suggests {Christianity and Mythology, p. 357) there
was a ritual miracle of turning water into wine.


oxen, goats, even fawns and roes from the forest, were killed,
torn to pieces, and eaten raw. This in imitation of the
treatment of Dionysus by the Titans"^ — who it was supposed
had torn the god in pieces when a child.

Dupuis, one of the earliest writers (at the beginning of
last century) on this subject, says, describing the mystic
rites of Dionysus^: "The sacred doors of the Temple in which
the initiation took place were opened only once a year, and
no stranger might ever enter. Night lent to these august
mysteries a veil which was forbidden to be drawn aside
— for whoever it might be.^ It was the sole occasion
for the representation of the passion of Bacchus [Diony-
sus] dead, descended into hell, and rearisen — in imita-
tion of the representation of the sufferings of Osiris which,
according to Herodotus, were commemorated at Sais in
Egypt. It was in that place that the partition took
place of the body of the god* which was then eaten —
the ceremony, in fact, of which our Eucharist is only a re-
flection; whereas in the mysteries of Bacchus actual raw
flesh was distributed, which each of those present had
to consume in commemoration of the death of Bacchus
dismembered by the Titans, and whose passion, in Chios
and Tenedos, was renewed each year by the sacrifice of a man
who represented the god.^ Possibly it is this last fact which
made people believe that the Christians (whose hoc est corpus
meum and sharing of an Eucharistic meal were no more than
a shadow of a more ancient rite) did really sacrifice a child
and devour its limbs."

That Eucharistic rites were very very ancient is plain
from the Totem-sacraments of savages; and to this subject
we shall now turn.

* See art. Dionysus. Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Nettleship
and Sandys (3rd edn., London, 1898).

2 See Charles F. Dupuis, "Traite des Mysteres," ch. i.

3 Pausan, Corinth, ch. 37. * Clem, Prot. Eur. Bacch.
5 See Porphyry, De Abstinentia, lii, § 56.



Much has been written on the origin of the Totem-system
— the system, that is, of naming a tribe or a portion of a
tribe (say a clan) after some animal — or sometimes also
after some plant or tree or Nature-element, like fire or
rain or thunder; but at best the subject is a difficult one
for us moderns to understand. A careful study has been
made of it by Salamon Reinach in his Cultes, Mythes et
Religions,^ where he formulates his conclusions in twelve
statements or definitions; but even so — though his sug-
gestions are helpful — he throws very little light on the real
origin of the system.-

There are three main difficulties. The first is to under-
stand why primitive Man should name his Tribe after an
animal or object of nature at all; the second, to understand
on what principle he selected the particular name (a lion, a
crocodile, a lady bird, a certain tree) ; the third, why he should
make of the said totem a divinity, and pay honor and wor-
ship to it. It may be worth while to pause for a moment
over these.

1 See English translation of certain chapters (published by David
Nutt in IQI2) entitled Cults, Myths and Religions, pp. 1-25. The
French original is in three large volumes.

2 The same may be said of the formulated statement of the subject
in Morris Jastrow's Handbooks of the History of Religion, vol. iv.



(i) The fact that the Tribe was one of the early things
for which Man found it necessary to have a name is inter-
esting, because it shows how early the solidarity and psycho-
logical actuality of the tribe was recognized; and as to the
selection of a name from some animal or concrete object of
Nature, that was inevitable, for the simple reason that there
was nothing else for the savage to choose from. Plainly to
call his tribe ''The Wayfarers" or "The Pioneers" or the
"Pacifists" or the "Invincibles," or by any of the thou-
sand and one names which modern associations adopt,
would have been impossible, since such abstract terms had
little or no existence in his mind. And again to name it
after an animal was the most obvious thing to do, simply
because the animals were by far the most important
features or accompaniments of his own life. As I am
dealing in this book largely with certain psychological
conditions of human evolution, it has to be pointed out that
to primitive man the animal was the nearest and most closely
related of all objects. Being of the same order of con-
sciousness as himself, the animal appealed to him very
closely as his mate and equal. He made with regard
to it little or no distinction from himself. We see this very
clearly in the case of children, who of course represent the
savage mind, and who regard animals simply as their mates
and equals, and come quickly into rapport with them, not
differentiating themselves from them.

(2) As to the particular animal or other object selected
in order to give a name to the Tribe, this would no doubt
be largely accidental. Any unusual incident might super-
stitiously precipitate a name. We can hardly imagine
the Tribe scratching its congregated head in the deliberate
effort to think out a suitable emblem for itself. That is
not the way in which nicknames are invented in a school
or anywhere else to-day. At the same time the heraldic
appeal of a certain object of nature, anim^ate or inanimate,
would be deeply and widely felt. The strength of the lion,


the fleetness of the deer, the food-value of a bear, the
flight of a bird, the awful jaws of a crocodile, might easily
mesmerize a whole tribe. Reinach points out, with great
justice, that many tribes placed themselves under the
protection of animals which were supposed (rightly or
wrongly) to act as guides and augurs, foretelling the future,
"Diodorus," he says, "distinctly states that the hawk,
in Egypt, was venerated because it foretold the future."
[Birds generally act as weather-prophets.] "In Australia
and Samoa the kangaroo, the crow and the owl premonish
their fellow clansmen of events to come. At one time the
Samoan warriors went so far as to rear owls for their
prophetic qualities in war." [The jackal, or 'pathfinder'
— whose tracks sometimes lead to the remains of a food-
animal slain by a lion, and many birds and insects, have
a value of this kind.] "The use of animal totems for
purposes of augury is, in all likelihood, of great antiquity.
Men must soon have realized that the senses of animals
were acuter than their own; nor is it surprising that
they should have expected their totems — that is to say, their
natural allies — to forewarn them both of unsuspected
dangers and of those provisions of nature, wells especially,
which animals seem to scent by instinct."^ And again,
beyond all this, I have little doubt that there are subcon-
scious affinities which unite certain tribes to certain animals
or plants, affinities whose origin we cannot now trace, though
they are very real — the same affinities that we recog-
nize as existing between individual persons and certain
objects of nature. W. H. Hudson — ^himself in many
respects having this deep and primitive relation to na-
ture — speaks in a very interesting and autobiographical
volume^ of the extraordinary fascination exercised upon
him as a boy, not only by a snake, but by certain trees,
and especially by a particular flowering-plant "not more

1 See Reinach, Eng. trans., op. cit., pp. 20, 21.

2 Far away and Long ago (1918) chs. xvi and xvii.


than a foot in height, with downy soft pale green leaves,
and clusters of reddish blossoms, something like valerian."
. . . "One of my sacred flowers," he calls it, and insists on
the "inexplicable attraction" which it had for him. In
various ways of this kind one can perceive how particu-
lar totems came to be selected by particular peoples.

(3) As to the tendency to divinize these totems, this arises
no doubt partly out of question (2). The animal or
other object admired on account of its strength or swiftness,
or adopted as guardian of the tribe because of its keen
sight or prophetic quality, or infinitely prized on account
of its food-value, or felt for any other reason to have
a peculiar relation and affinity to the tribe, is by that
fact set apart. It becomes taboo. It must not be
killed — except under necessity and by sanction of the whole
tribe — nor injured; and all dealings with it must be
fenced round with regulations. It is out of this taboo
or system of taboos that, according to Reinach, religion
arose. "I propose (he says) to define religion as: A
sum of scruples {taboos) which impede the free exercise of
our faculties:' ^ Obviously this definition is gravely defi-
cient, simply because it is purely negative, and leaves
out of account the positive aspect of the subject. In
Man, the positive content of religion is the instinctive
sense — whether conscious or subconscious — of an inner unity
and continuity with the world around. This is the stuff
out of which religion is made. The scruples or taboos
which "impede the freedom" of this relation are the
negative forces which give outline and form to the relation.
These are the things which generate the rites and ceremonials
of religion; and as far as Reinach means by religion merely
rites and ceremonies he is correct; but clearly he only covers
half the subject. The tendency to divinize the totem
is at least as much dependent on the positive sense
of unity with it, as on the negative scruples which limit

1 See Orpheus by S. Reinach, p. 3.


the relation in each particular case. But I shall return to
this subject presently, and more than once, with the view of
clarifying it. Just now it will be best to illustrate the nature
of Totems generally, and in some detail.

As would be gathered from what I have just said, there
is found among all the more primitive peoples, and in all
parts of the world, an immense variety of totem-names.
The Dinkas, for instance, are a rather intelligent well-grown
people inhabiting the upper reaches of the Nile in the
vicinity of the great swamps. According to Dr. Selig-
man their clans have for totems the lion, the elephant,
the crocodile, the hippopotamus, the fox, and the hyena,
as well as certain birds which infest and damage the
corn, some plants and trees, and such things as rain,
fire, etc. "Each clan speaks of its totem as its ancestor,
and refrains [as a rule] from injuring or eating it."^ The
members of the Crocodile clan call themselves "brothers of
the crocodile." The tribes of Bechuana-land have a very
similar list of totem-names^the buffalo, the fish, the
porcupine, the wild vine, etc. They too have a Croco-
dile clan, but they call the crocodile their father! The
tribes of Australia much the same again, with the differ-
ences suitable to their country; and the Red Indians of
North America the same. Garcilasso della Vega, the
Spanish historian, son of an Inca princess by one of the
Spanish conquerors of Peru and author of the well-known
book Commentarias Reales, says in that book (i, 57), speak-
ing of the pre-Inca period, "An Indian (of Peru) was not
considered honorable unless he was descended from a foun-
tain, river or lake, or even from the sea, or from a wild
animal, as a bear, lion, tiger, eagle, or the bird they call
cuntur (condor), or some other bird of prey."^ According

1 See The Golden Bough, vol. iv, p. 31.

2 See Andrew Lang, Custom and Myth, p. 104, also Myth, Ritual
and Religion, vol. i, pp. 71, 76, etc.


to Lewis Morgan, the North American Indians of various
tribes had for totems the wolf, bear, beaver, turtle, deer,
snipe, heron, hawk, crane, loon, turkey, muskrat; pike, cat-
fish, carp; buffalo, elk, reindeer, eagle, hare, rabbit, snake;
reed-grass, sand, rock, and tobacco-plant.

So we might go on rather indefinitely. I need hardly
say that in more modern and civilized life, relics of the totem
system are still to be found in the forms of the heraldic
creatures adopted for their crests by different families,
and in the bears, lions, eagles, the sun, moon and stars
and so forth, which still adorn the flags and are flaunted
as the insignia of the various nations. The names may
not have been originally adopted from any definite be-
lief in blood-relationship with the animal or other object
in question; but when, as Robertson says {Pagan Christs,
p. 104), a "savage learned that he was 'a Bear' and that
his father and grandfather and forefathers were so before
him, it was really impossible, after ages in which totem-
names thus passed current, that he should fail to assume that
his folk were descended from a bear."

As a rule, as may be imagined, the savage tribesman
will on no account eat his tribal totem-animal. Such
would naturally be deemed a kind of sacrilege. Also it
must be remarked that some totems are hardly suitable for
eating. Yet it is important to observe that occasionally,
and guarding the ceremony with great precautions, it
has been an almost universal custom for the tribal elders
to call a feast at which an animal (either the totem or
some other) is killed and commonly eaten — and this in order
that the tribesmen may absorb some virtue belonging to
it, and may confirm their identity with the tribe and with
each other. The eating of the bear or other animal, the
sprinkling with its blood, and the general ritual in which
the participants shared its flesh, or dressed and dis-
guised themselves in its skin, or otherwise identified them-
selves with it, was to them a symbol of their commu-


nity of life with each other, and a means of their renewal and
salvation in the holy emblem. And this custom, as the reader
will perceive, became the origin of the Eucharists and Holy
Communions of the later religions.

Professor Robertson-Smith's celebrated Camel affords an
instance of this.^ It appears that St. Nilus (fifth century)
has left a detailed account of the occasional sacrifice in
his time of a spotless white camel among the Arabs of the
Sinai region, which closely resembles a totemic communion-
feast. The uncooked blood and flesh of the animal had to
be entirely consumed by the faithful before daybreak. "The
slaughter of the victim, the sacramental drinking of the
blood, and devouring in wild haste of the pieces of still
quivering flesh, recall the details of the Dionysiac and

Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 4 of 25)