Charles De Berard Mills.

The tree of mythology, its growth and fruitage: genesis of the nursery tale, saws of folk-lore, etc.; online

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Online LibraryCharles De Berard MillsThe tree of mythology, its growth and fruitage: genesis of the nursery tale, saws of folk-lore, etc.; → online text (page 16 of 17)
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-rational sentiment, not the administration of a pre-



FROM ANTHROPOMORPHIC TO IDEAL. 263

■scribed and imposed faith, but the inculcation of
Truths, the Truths of Life; not imparting a revelation,
but awakening the inner being, opening the door to
new faculties, and lifting to a larger and higher free-
dom. The stone which the builders have rejected
will become the head of the corner.

A reverence for veracity, for integrity, holding the
fealty supreme, regarding the laws themselves as
practically very deity, appreciation deeper, keener,
for the incarnate presence in nature and in man,
awaking of the sensibilities so the spirit shall be all
alive and aglow to the fact of the harmonies and
beauties, — will be the religion, the prayer and the
altar incense of the future.

It has been a signal advance from Odin to God,*
from the wind to personal invisible spirit ; a great
step once from coarse fetichism to the Jehovism of
the Old Testament; it will be a greater from the
anthropomorphic to the ideal ; more momentous in its
eflFect both upon thought and the forms of worship.
And as the present looks back upon the old idolatries
with wonder that their devotees should have been so
stupid and blind, set in such narrow mould, and un-
able to see over or get out, so shall a future age look
back to ours with amazement that in the midst of

* Both {according to Mr. John Fiske the same word; Guodon original
{orm ol Odln, becoming in course of time our word Ood.



264 EXCELSIOR.

our advanced and measurably ripened civilization^
such expansion and growth in intellectual freedom
and material and economic power, we could still be
such pagans in our religion.

With the higher emancipation there shall be also
the larger recognition and appropriation of man's
past. Reading through all, the mind shall read in
all, depths of meaning never seen before. Prof.
Youmans has well said, speaking of the sun, that it is
more, far more to us of to-day than it was to the men
even of fifty years ago, since now science is learning
to explore and pierce it, reads its elements, and un-
folds the story of its birth, its age, its action, and its
destiny. The spectroscope has penetrated the
heavens, unveiled the mystery of the stars, and shown
in beautiful and memorable illustration, the oneness
of the worlds and laws above, with those below.
Light and heat, the crystallizing molecules, create the
familiar world of every day anew for us, since expos-
itors like Tyndall have told us the tale of their mar-
velous secrets and their informing intelligence.

So of mythology ; as we are able to decipher, to
enter into the frame and outlook of the people that
wrought the rnyths, to see all that and beyond also,
— it speaks with a far deeper emphasis and more
pregnant meaning to us than to any before. " Even
man's errors," says Max Miiller, " we learn to under-
stand, even his dreams we begin to interpret." We



READING THROUGH ALL. 265

shall look with a freshened interest, with more en-
gaged, perceiving and admiring eyes, upon the famil-
iar sights of the every day that we had ceased to note
and remember. They become furbished with new
brightness, and speak with a deeper suggestion, as
we put ourselves in place 'of the early beholders, and
recall how they were viewed in a poet's eye. We
shall see the Golden Fleece in the burnished gleams
upon the folds of cloud that hang upon the sea of
sky in the hour of expiring day; the dying struggle
of the toilng hero as he wrestles with the poisoned
garment that burns and tears his flesh ; see the palace
and gardens of Alkinoos; the Daidalean Labyrinth,
or again the sparkling valley of diamonds haunted
by the roc ; pale lo and Argos with his thousand eyes ;
see the rosy-fingered maiden that beams and glows
in the dawning East, or Gerda, beautiful beyond
compare, standing in her father's door that she had
just opened, pouring auroral light o'er all the sky,
and smiting Freyr with frenzy of love ; see the
Bridge of Light thrown up by the parted lovers,
looking and longing to be united and one, that
arches and gilds the nocturnal sky.

Nothing shall be too fanciful or whimsical, arbitrary
or grotesque in these old conceits, to interest and
attract; nothing too rude, sensuous-seeming or even
gross, to instruct and enrich. All the experience
and the thought of man, his vision and his dreams.



266 EXCELSIOR.

his wisdom and his infirmities of folly, shall be sac-
ramental to the perceiving and improving mind.
Every shred of this history shall be precious, divine.
We all are like, all held much in the same tether ; all
visited with a common aspiration, and enlarged in
the thought of one sublime, measureless possibility.

It may be fitting before we end, to instance two
myths, — both from races in whom little in the direc-
tion of the poetic and truly spiritual might be ex-
pected, races dwelling, we might suppose surely and
almost inevitably on the lower plane, amid the
besetments and preoccupations of the mere sense.
The Esthonians, living on marshes and amid sand
plains, in most inhospitable climate, in smoky, sooty
huts, which they share with the beasts, and that know
not window^s or chimneys, are not the people you
would suppose to be rich in imagination, or in any
of the finer perceptions. But tiiey have a tale that
tells that the thought of the poet blooms here also,
amid the protracted night and devouring cold of
Arctic clime. Indeed the Kalevala, — wonderful pro-
duct of the imagination, — apprises us that man may
be thinker, poet, bard, even under these hardest con-
ditions.

Wanna Issi — Old Father — had two servants, Koit
and Ammarik, and he gave them a torch, which it
was the office of Koit to light every morning, and of
Ammarik to extinguish in the evening. Faithful



THE WINTER-STREET OF LIGHT. 267

they had long been in this service, and Wanna Issi at
length said to them they might be man and wife.
They replied No, but asked that they might be per-
mitted to remain forever bride and bridegroom, —
affianced, lovers still. "Wanna Issi assented, and
henceforth Koit handed the torch every evening to
Ammarik, and Ammarik took and extinguished it.

"Only during four weeks in summer they remain
together at midnight. Koit hands the dying torch
to Ammarik, but Ammarik does not let it die, but
lights it again with her breath. Then their hands
are stretched out and their lips meet, and the blush
of Ammarik colors the midnight sky."*

Here we have those evenings in midsummer
under that latitude, when the gloaming seems to kiss
the dawn. No race has ever conceived and told the
fact more finely.

Somewhat similar, at least cognate to this, is an old
conception that has come down in the form of a
legend, and been rendered in verse by a Swedish
poet of our time, Torpelius, The names of the two
lovers, drawn manifestly from the Old Testament,
show plainly that at the time it assumed the form in
which we have it, there must have been some con-
tact with Christian influence. But the thought is
old, and well illustrates one of the early mythic con-
ceptions. The bridge they threw up, arching the

*Max MflUer In Art. on Mythologv, Chips V, 87.



268 EXCELSIOR.

farthest skies, it need hardly be said, was the Milky-
Way.

" Her name Salami was, his Zulamytli ;
And botli so loved, each other loved. TIius runs the tender myth :
That once on earth they lived, and loving there,
Were wrenched apart by night, and sorrow and despair ;
And when death came at last, with white wings given.
Condemned to live apart, each reached a separate heaven.
«**»■«

Yet loving still upon the azure height

Across unnumbered ways of splendor, gleaming bright

With worlds on worlds that spread and glowed and burned.

Each unto each, with love that knew no limit, longing turned.

Zulamyth half consumed, until he willed

Out of his strength, one night, a bridge of light to build

Across the waste— and lo! from her far sun

A bridge of light from orb to orb Salami had begun.

A thousand years they built, still on, with faith

Immeasurable, quenchless,— thus the legend saith, —

Until the winter-street of light— a bridge

Above heaven's highest vault swung clear, remotest ridge from ridge.

Fear seized the cherubim ; to God they spake : —

' See what amongst Thy works. Almighty, these can make!

God smiled, and smiling, lit the spheres with joy—

' What in my world love builds,' He said, ' shall I, shall love destroy? '

The bridge stood finished, and the lovers flew

Into each other's arms ; when lo ! shot up and grew

Brightest in the heavens serene, a star that shone

As the heart shines serene, after a thousand troubles gone. ' ' *

Our second tale is from the Maoris of New Zea-
land, a story of the origin of man and of the daily
life of things on this earth, in which we have all of
the child's simplicity, and the thought, the imagina-
tion of more than childhood. It is called ' The

* Translation by Mr. E. Keary, Evening Hours, Vol. 3.



THE CHILDREN OF HEAVEN AND EARTH. 269

Legend of the Children of Heaven and Earth,' and
was taken down by Sir George Grey about thirty
years ago. Lengthy as it is, it will all repay perusal.

"Men' had but one pair, of primitive ancestors;
they sprang from the vast heaven that exists above
us, and from the earth which lies beneath us. Ac-
cording to the traditions of our race, Rangi and
Papa, or Heaven and Earth, were the source from
which, in the beginning, all things originated.
Darkness then rested upon the heaven and upon
the earth, and they still both clave together, for
they had not yet been rent apart; and the children
they had begotten were ever thinking amongst them-
selves what might be the difference between dark-
ness and light; they knew that beings had multi-
plied and increased, and yet light had never broken
upon them, but it ever continued dark. Hence
those sayings are found in our ancient religious ser-
vices : "There was darkness from the first division
of time unto the tenth, to the hundredth, to the
thousandth," — that is for a vast space of time ; and
these divisions of time were considered as beings,
and were each termed a Po.

"At last the beings who had been begotten by
Heaven and the Earth, worn out by the continued
darkness, consulted amongst themselves, saying. Let
us now determine what we should do with Rangi
and Papa, whether it would be better to slay them,



270 EXCELSIOR.

or to rend them apart. Then spoke Tu-ma-tauenga,
the fiercest of the children of Heaven and Earth, " It
is well, let us slay them."

"Then spake Tane-marhuta, the father of forests
and of all things that inhabit them, or that are con-
structed from trees, — " Nay, not so. It is better to rend
them apart, and to let the heaven stand far above us,
and the earth lie under our feet. Let the sky become
as a stranger to us, but the earth remain close to us
as our nourishing mother." The brothers all con-
sented to this proposal, with the exception of Taw-
hiri-ma-tea, the father of winds and storms, and he
fearing that his kingdom was about to be over-
thrown, grieved greatly at the thought of his parents'
being torn apart. Five of the brothers willingly con-
sented to the separation of their parents, but one of
them would not agree to it."

The brothers all tried, in vain, — the god and father
of the cultivated food of man, god and father of fish
and reptiles, &c.; — every one failed. — " Then at last,
slowly uprises Tane-mahuta, the god and father of
forests, of birds, and of insects, and he struggles
with his parents; in vain he strives to rend
them apart with his hands and arms. Lo, he pauses,
his head is now firmly planted on his mother, the
earth, his feet he raises up and rests against his father,
the skies, he strains his back and limbs with mighty
effort. Now are rent apart Rangi and Papa, and



THE LIBERATION. 2? I

with cries and groans of wo they shriek aloud,
" Wherefore slay you thus your parents ? Why com-
mit you so dreadful a crime as to slay us, as to rend
your parents apart? " But Tane-mahuta pauses not,
he regards not their shrieks and cries; far, far
beneath him he presses down the earth, far, far above
him he thrusts up the sky.

"Hence these sayings of olden time ; — "It was the
fierce thrusting of Tane, which tore the heaven from
the earth so that they were rent apart, and darkness
was made manifest, and so was the light."

" No sooner was heaven rent from the earth, than
the multitude of human beings were discovered
whom they had begotten, and who had hitherto lain
concealed between the bodies of Rangi and Papa."*

The legend next describes how Tawhiri-ma-tea,
god and father of winds and storms, arose and fol-
lowed his father to the realms above, hurrying to the
sheltered hollows of the boundless skies, to hide and
cling and nestle there. Fierce desire came to him to
wage war against his brethren who had done such
unhandsome deed to their parents. " Then came forth
his progeny, the mighty winds, the fierce squalls, the
clouds, dense, dark, fiery, wildly drifting, wildly
bursting; and in their midst their father rushed

*In one version it is priven thus:— "Tliey became visible, wlio had
hitherto been concealed between the lioUows of their parent's breasts.''
—Lang, Custom and Myth, citing Taylor and Bastian.



272 EXCELSIOR.

upon his foe." Tane-mahuta and his giant forests
were taken unawares, unsuspecting, when the raging
hurricane burst upon them, the. mighty trees were
snapped in twain, prostrated, trunks and branches
left torn upon the ground for insect and grub to prey
on. The sea was swept and tossed with wild surg-
ings and mountain waves till Tangaroa, god of the
ocean and father of all that dwell therein, became
affrighted and fled. His children, the parents offish
on the one hand and of reptiles on the other, fled, the
one into the depths of the sea, the other into the
recesses of the shore^ amid the forests and the scrubs.

The storm-god attacked his brothers, the gods and
progenitors of the tilled food and the wild, but Papa,
the Earth, caught them up and hid them, and he
searched and swept to find them, in vain. He fell
upon the last of his brothers, the father oi fierce men,
but him he could not even move. Man stood erect,
unshaken upon the bosom of his mother earth. "At
last the hearts of the Heaven and the Storm became
tranquil, and their passion was assuaged."

But now Tu-ma-tauenga, farther of fierce men,
became stirred to attack. He was minded to avenge
himself upon his brethren who had left him unaided
to stand against the god of storms. He twisted
nooses of the leaves of the whanake tree, and the birds
and beasts, children of the forest-god fell before him ;
netted nets of the flax plant and dragged ashore the



THE UNDYING LOVK AND DEVOTION. 273

fish ; he digged in the ground and brought up the
sweet potato and all cultivated food, the fern root
and all wild-growing food. He overcame every one
of the brothers, all but the storm-god, who still ever
attacks him in tempest and hurricane, seeking to
destroy him both by sea and by land. It was in one
of these attacks that the dry land was made to dis-
appear beneath the waters.

" The beings of ancient days who thus submerged
the land were Terrible-rain, Long-continued-rain,
Fierce hailstorms; and their progeny were Mist,
Heavy-dew and Light-dew, and thus but little of the
dry land was left standing above the sea.

" From that time clear light increased upon the
earth, and all the beings which were hidden between
Rangi and Papa before they were separated, now
multiplied upon the earth. The first beings begotten
by Rangi and Papa were not like human beings; but
Tu-ma-tauenga bore the likeness of a man, as did all
his brothers.

" Up to this time the vast Heaven has still ever
remained separate from his spouse, the Earth. Yet
their mutual love still continues, — the soft warm
sighs of her loving bosom still ever rise up to him,
ascending from the woody mountains and valleys,
and men call these mists; and the vast Heaven, as he
mourns through the long nights his separation from



274 EXCELSIOR.

his beloved, drops frequent tears upon her bosom,
and men seeing these, term them dew-drops." *

So we find here fountains of clear water, wells of
life, opening for us in unexpected places. Humanity
is rich and brings for us even in its lower planes, per-
petual surprises. Who shall any longer speak of
heathens, or people that dwell in the blackness of
unbroken night, having no perceptions, no ideals?
The scale is everywhere one of degree ; it is measure,,
or more or less, that differences and divides barbar-
ous from civilized, pagan from Christian. All have
been touched from the fountain of Wisdom and
Beauty, and all have articulated some syllable or
more from the name ineffable. We find the oneness
of Humanity, all the race like, everywhere essentially
the same. The distinctions that have been drawn in
the past, artificial, grounded in our ignorance and
vain conceit of tribe or people, shall in this growing-
light pass away. And by speaking to the common
perceptions, all shall be reached.

We see also clear hint here of the origin of the
mythology that we find so ripened in the literatures
of the higher and more cultivated races. Ancestors
of Greek, Teuton, and Hindu, so conceived and
spoke of the gods. These Maori tales are the germs

• Grey's PolyneBian Mythologu, pp. 1-5, 14, 16. In the Greek mythology
the dew is the tears of Eos weeping over the death of Memnon, and in the
Teutonic, tlie trees in mourning over the stealing away of Iduna, weep-
frozen tears .



REVEALED THOUGH VEILED. 275,

of such legends as spring and have grown into this
world-covering tree.

On this ladder of symbol, ascending rung after
rung from lower to higher, we are to climb up to-
God, ascending and transcending until we reach that
central unity, that reality of all, for which thought
has no conception and language no name. Here are
we to commune, and find our being's portion, joy^
possession forever. Here are we liberated and come
to our estate. Speech cannot describe or image it
even, the soul knows it in some partial realization.
All that highest prophets and bards have hitherto
been able, was but to adumbrate in some faint degree
to the already cognizant and perceiving spirit. At
the best the vision is shadowed and dim, we never
see our divinity unveiled. Only in some lofty type,,
form transcending all forms we know, can we behold
the invisible. We rise, we approximate, we reach
nearer and nearer to the illimitable goal.

And the clearer our perceptions and higher our
attainment, seeing the unseen and eternal, the more
shall we penetrate and appreciate the living symbol,
world we live in, and the horn-book in which our
lessons were taught. ' Terrestrial place is found by
celestial observation.' The more we prize and lay
hold upon the substance, the more shall we appreciate^
cherish, and in tender love and awe religiously cling-
to the manifiestation in time. ' Hence,' says Hermes,,



276 EXCELSIOR.

^' was man called the Great Miracle.' The highest
idealism can be but ever the truest realism. The
elementary book we have learned in, the primer of
the human race, can never be forgotten or dis-
esteemed. Like a palimpsest, it reveals as studied
new, deeper inscriptions and more. For the Alpine
climbing that still awaits, the best help is to be
found in the recorded history of man, his thought
and most resolute endeavor after apprehension of the
spiritual and real. This is sacramental bread and
wine; it is the offered body and blood of a toiling,
suffering humanity.

Ideas shall become nobler, worthier, perceptions
clearer, aims, purposes, as well as conceptions more
exalted, language shall be purged and elevated, the
grosser elements, terms that have proved most easily
illusive and a snare, especially that have been satu-
rated in the sense, shall be disused and pass away.
The mind itself shall be enfranchised, so that as it
deals with invisible, it shall be taken never in mesh
of the seen. The mythology will all be left behind.
Why should not the terms God, heaven, spiritual world ,
&c., become as pellucid, as free from the personal or
any concrete implication, as now to us all are substance,
truth ? More and more must speech become transpar-
ent, no toil anywhere, and the soul shall dwell in
undimmed, uninterrupted vision. There shall be
iHO night there, no illusion, no refraction or veil



SPEAKING TO THE THOUGHT. 277-

before the eye of the spirit. There will be deliver-
ence, perfect conquest, the fetter shall become the
pinion, the clog transmute to wing, to bear on beyond
the sense to the supreme, ethereal Beauty.

We may perhaps say that finally all language will
be safe, penetrated and illumed from the inner life;
the passional seeming will carry no hint of passion,
the intoxicated, erotic speech of Sufi saint will be
read the ecstatic rapture of the freed, beholding, and
exulting soul. A full absolute emancipation from
all the intense realism and sensism, the bondage to
determinate and seen, which we witness all through
history, and which to this hour bears sway. Begin-
ning has been made on this road, man's mind shall
not pause or falter, until the final conquest be gained
and the goal won.

Yet there will be most careful discrimination and
selection. All the symbolism employed in rite must
have its spring sole in natural beauty. It must fit
like the apt word for the thing, so inly and livingly
related that it shall seem verily that, its spontaneous,,
veritable type and pure incarnation. The forms will
be in utmost simple, and luminously expressive;
speaking to the thought and necessarily inspiring.
Much that we now see prevailing, one might almost
say all, must be cast aside, as foreign, unadapted, un-
worthy, cumbrous, artificial and misleading. Will
it not be possible to have every expression of man's



-Z78 EXCELSIOR.

sentiment so fitting, so exalted and clear, that to
see with the eye shall be instantly to apprehend with
the reason ? So charged and radiant with,the right
meaning that the spirit shall be constrained, com-
pelled in the witnessing of it, to repair to and repose
alone in the central reality for love and worship?

The world will show transfigured, and all life will
be music, when the prophet, when the harper comes.
The Hindus said of the seven Rishis, ' mortal but
united with the immortals' that with their hymns
they 'caused the dawn to arise and the sun to shine.'
Pregnant and beautiful is the hint which the tales
give us of the office of teacher and bard, interpreter
and minstrel to the inner self of us all. "These
strains," says the Gudrunlied, " he ('HorantJ sang,
and they were wondrous. To none were they too
long who heard the strains. The time that it would
take to ride a thousand miles, passed whilst listening
to him, as a moment. The wild beast of the forest
and the timid deer hearkened, the little worms crept
forth in the green meadows, fishes swam up to listen,
each forgetting its nature so long as he chanted his
song." A like power in the harper Volker in the
Nibelungen Lay. He could fight as well as he could
play, and the soft soothing tones of his harp lull to
sleep the sorrows of the anxious men who are soon
to die.

Tales of Amphion with his lyre, Orpheus with his
miraculous harp, Odin with his runes, Oberon with



THE STORY OF THE RACE. 279

his horn, Gunadhya with his verses 'that he had
written with his own blood,' Wainamoinen with his
lays and with his kantele, — tell not a fulfilment only
but more a prophecy, they speak their word of the
songs and the oracles that shall be. Have we not all
sometimes heard notes of the strain .■' And more,
infinitely more and higher are in store. More and
more the light beats and breaks in the throbbing
East. The eye sees more clearly and deeply, the
heart knows trulier, and with ever increasing delight
and wonder and_love.

This lesson we find in the study of these experi-
ences and mythic conceptions through the entire
range of history, — the spirit of man passing by slow,
often imperceptible stages out of illusion to vision,
out of bondage to freedom, out of mythology to
knowledge, pure worship, and ever augmenting per-
ception and power. The road is long, the goal yet
far, far away. But the tale of mythology, the story
of the race in its civilization and its growth, is one
with the scripture told in all the Bibles of the world,


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Online LibraryCharles De Berard MillsThe tree of mythology, its growth and fruitage: genesis of the nursery tale, saws of folk-lore, etc.; → online text (page 16 of 17)