James George Frazer.

Adonis, Attis, Osiris; studies in the history of oriental religion online

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from all labour, " thinking that if anything is sown on those
days they can never reap the benefit thereof." ^ But in this
matter of sowing and planting a refined distinction is some-
times drawn by French, German, and Esthonian peasants ;
plants which bear fruit above ground are sown by them
when the moon is waxing, but plants which are cultivated
for the sake of their roots, such as potatoes and turnips, are
sown when the moon is waning.''^ The reason for this dis-
tinction seems to be a vague idea that the waxing moon
is coming up and the waning moon going down, and that

1 F. S. Kraiiss, op. cit. p. 16 ; p. 183.

Montanus, I.e. ; Varro, Rerum Rusli- * J. G. Campbell, Witchcraft mid

^ar«m, i. 37 (see above, p. 363, note 4). Second Sight in the Highlands and

However, the opposite rule is observed Islands of Scotland, p. 306.

ill the Upper Vosges, where it is thought ° Thomas Tusser, Five Hundred

that if the sheep are shorn at the new Points of Good Hiisbatidry, new

moon the quantity of wool will be much edition {London, 1812), p. 107 (under

less than if they were shorn in the February).

waning of the moon (L. F. Sauve, " Fairweather, in W. F. Owen's

Folk-lore des Hautes- Vosges, p. 5). In Narrative of Voyages to explore the

Normandy, also, wool is clipped during Shores of Africa, Arabia, and Mada-

the waning of the moon ; otherwise gascar, ii. 396 sq.

moths would get into it (J. Lecoeur, ' h.'^Mtike, Derdeutsche Volksaber-

Esquisses du Socage Normand, ii. 12). glaube,^ § 65, p. 58 ; J. Lecoeur, loc. cit. ;

2 Father Lejeune, "Dans ]a foret, " E. Meier, Detitsche Sagen, Sitte?i und
Missions Catholiques, .xxvii. (1895) P- Gebrduche aus Schwaben, p. 511, §
272. 422; Th. Siebs, "Das Saterland,"

^ ?>.]ohT\soTi,/ou!-}tey to the IVestern Zeitschrift filr Volkskunde, iii. (1893)
Islands 0/^ &o//(i:«rf (Baltimore, 1810), p. 278; Holzmayer, op. cit. p. 47.


accordingly fruits wliich grow upwards should be sown in
the former period, and fruits which grow downwards in the
latter. Before beginning to plant their cacao the Pipiles of
Central America exposed the finest seeds for four nights to
the moonlight/ but whether they did so at the waxing or
waning of the moon is not said.

Again, the waning of the moon has been commonly The
recommended both in ancient and modern times as the fhe^moon
proper time for felling trees,^ apparently because it was '" relation
thought fit and natural that the operation of cutting down feUmg of
should be performed on earth at the time when the lunar timber.
orb was, so to say, being cut down in the sky. In France
before the Revolution the forestry laws enjoined that trees
should only be felled after the moon had passed the full ;
and in French bills announcing the sale of timber you may
still read a notice that the wood was cut in the waning
of the moon.^ But sometimes the opposite rule is adopted,
and equally forcible arguments are urged in its defence.
Thus, when the Wabondei of Eastern Africa are about
to build a house, they take care to cut the posts for it
when the moon is on the increase ; for they say that
posts cut when the moon is wasting away would soon
rot, whereas posts cut while the moon is waxing are
very durable.* The same rule is observed for the same
reason in some parts of Germany.^ But the partisans of the

1 H. H. Bancroft, Native Races of nella peninsola Sorrentina (Palermo,
the Pacific States, \\. Tl<) sq. 1 890), p. 87; K. von den Steinen,

2 Cato, De agri culttira, 37. 4 ; Unter den Naturvblkern Zentral-
Varro, Rerum Rusticaruiii, i. 37 ; Brasilicn, p. 559. Compare F. de
Pliny, Nat. Hist. xvi. 190; Palladius, Castelnau, Expedition dans les parties
De re rustica, ii. 22, xii. 15 ; Plutarch, centrales de TAviirigue du Sud, iii. 438.
Quaest. Conviv. iii. 10. 3 ; Macrobius, Pliny, while he says that the period
Saturn, vii. 16 ; A. Wiittke, I.e. ; from the twentieth to the thirtieth day
Bavaria, Latides- und Volkskimde des of the lunar month was the season gener-
Kbtiigreichs Bayern, iv. 2, p. 402 ; ally recommended, adds that the best
W. Kolbe, Hessische Volks-Sitten und time of all, according to universal
Gebraiiche, p. 58 ; L. F. Sauve, Folk- opinion, was the interkmar day, between
lore des Hautes- Vosges, p. 5 ; F. Chapi- the old and the new moon, when the
seau, Folk-lore de la Beauce et du planet is invisible through being in
Perche, i. 291 sq.; M. Martin, "De- conjunction with the sun.

scription of the Western Islands of 3 j. Lecoeur, Esquisses du Socage

Scotland," in Pinkerton's Voyages and Normand, ii. 11 sq.
Travels, iii. 630 ; J. G. Campbell, . r^ -a rr i , ■

Witchcraft and Second Sight in the ' '?' B^"!";""- Ufambara und se^ne

Highlands and Islands of Scotland, p. ^<^hbargeb.ete (Berlin, 1891), p. 125.
306 ; G. Amalfi, Tradizioni ed Usi ^ Montanus, Die deutsche Volksfeste,

366 OSIJiJS AND THE MOON book hi

ordinarily received opinion have sometimes supported it by

The moon another reason, which introduces us to the second of those

regarded fallacious appearances by which men have been led to regard

source of the moon as the cause of growth in plants. From observing

moisture, j-jgj^jjy ^hat dew falls most thickly on cloudless nights, they

inferred wrongly that it was caused by the moon, a theory

which the poet Alcman expressed in mythical form by saying

that dew was a daughter of Zeus and the moon.^ Hence

the ancients concluded that the moon is the great source of

moisture, as the sun is the great source of heat.^ And as

the humid power of the moon was assumed to be greater

when the planet was waxing than when it was waning, they

thought that timber cut during the increase of the luminary

would be saturated with moisture, whereas timber cut in the

wane would be comparatively dry. Hence we are told that

in antiquity carpenters would reject timber felled when the

moon was growing or full, because they believed that such

timber teemed with sap ; ^ and in the Vosges at the present

day people allege that wood cut at the new moon does not

dry.* In the Hebrides peasants give the same reason for

cutting their peats when the moon is on the wane; "for

they observe that if they are cut in the increase, they

continue still moist and never burn clear, nor are they

without smoke, but the contrary is daily observed of peats

cut in the decrease." ^

The moon, Thus misled by a double fallacy primitive philosophy

vfewed as '^o'^s^ ^o view the moon as the great cause of vegetable

the cause growth, first, bccausc the planet seems itself to grow, and

grovfth'ris^ second, because it is supposed to be the source of dew

naturally and moisture. It is no wonder, therefore, that agricultural

by agri- peoples should adore the planet which they believe to

cultural influence so profoundly the crops on which they depend

for subsistence. Accordingly we find that in the hotter

Volksirauche und deutscherVolksglaube, Aristotle, Problemata, xxiv. 14, p. 937
p. 128. B, 3 sq. ed. I. Bekker (Berlin).

1 Plutarch, Quaest. Conviv. iii. 10. ^ Macrobius and Plutarcli, ll.cc.

3; Macrobius, Saturn, vii. 16. See * L. F. ?>dM\i, Folk-lore des Hautes-

further, W. H. Roscher, tjber Selene Vosges, p. 5.

tmd Verwandtes (Leipsic, 1890), p. 49 ^ M. Martin, "Description of the

sqq. Western Islands of Scotland," in

2 Plutarch and Macrobius, ll.cc. ; Pinkerton's Voyages and Travels,
Pliny, Nat. Hist. ii. 223, xx. I ; iii. 630.


regions of America, where maize is cultivated and manioc is
the staple food, the moon was recognised as the principal
object of worship, and plantations of manioc were assigned
to it as a return for the service it rendered in the production
of the crops. The worship of the moon in preference to the
sun was general among the Caribs, and, perhaps, also among
most of the other Indian tribes who cultivated maize in the
tropical forests to the east of the Andes ; and the same
thing has been observed, under the same physical conditions,
among the aborigines of the hottest region of Peru, the
northern valleys of Yuncapata. Here the Indians of Pacas-
mayu and the neighbouring valleys revered the moon as
their principal divinity. The " house of the moon " at Pacas-
mayu was the chief temple of the district ; and the same
sacrifices of maize-flour, of wine, and of children which were
offered by the mountaineers of the Andes to the Sun-god,
were offered by the lowlanders to the Moon-god in order
that he might cause their crops to thrive.^ In ancient
Babylonia, where the population was essentially agricultural,
the moon-god took precedence of the sun-god and was
indeed reckoned his father.^

Hence it would be no matter for surprise if, after

' E. J. Payne, History of the New Cdebes, believe that the rice -spirit

World called America, i. 495. In his Omonga lives in the moon and eats up

remarks on the origin of moon-worship the rice in the granary if he is not

this learned and philosophical historian treated with due respect. See A. C.

has indicated [op. cit. i. 493 sqq.) Kruijt, "Eenige ethnografische Aantee-

the true causes which lead primitive keningen omtrent de Toboengkoeen de

man to trace the growth of plants Tomori," Mededeelingen van wege het

to the influence of the moon. Com- Nederlandsche Zetidelinggenootschap,

pare E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture,"^ xliv. (1900) p. 231.
i. 130. Mr. Payne suggests that

the custom of naming the months ^ E. A. Budge, Nebuchadnezzar,

after the principal natural products King of Babylo7i, on recently-discovered

that ripen in them may have contributed inscriptions of this King, p. 5 sq. ;

to the same result. The custom is A. H. Sayce, Religion of the Ancient

certainly very common among savages, Babylonians, p. I55 ! M- Jastrow,

as I hope to show elsewhere, but Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp.

whether it has contributed to foster (>% sq.,']c,sq. ■,'L.'VJ.¥Jmg, Babylonian

the fallacy in question seems doubtful. Religion and Mythology (Loudon,

The Indians of Brazil are said to 1899), p. 17 sq. The Ahts of Van-
pay more attention to the moon than couver's Island, a tribe of fishers and
to the sun, regarding it as a source hunters, view the moon as the husband
both of good and ill {Spix und Martius, of the sun and as a more powerful
Reise in Brasilien, i. 379). The deity than her (G. M. Sproat, Scejies
natives of Mori, a district of Central and Studies of Savage Life, p. 206).


Thus worshipping the crops which furnished them with the means

old corn- of Subsistence, the ancient Egyptians should in later times
god, was have identified the spirit of the corn with the moon, which

afterwards . , i -i i i i 11 1 i

identified a lalse philosophy had taught them to regard as the
with the ultimate cause of the growth of vegetation. In this way
we can understand why in their most recent forms the myth
and ritual of Osiris, the old god of trees and corn, should
bear many traces of efforts made to bring them into a
superficial conformity with the new doctrine of his lunar




In the preceding chapter some evidence was adduced of the The
sympathetic influence which the waxing or waning moon is 0°!^™,':
popularly supposed to exert on growth, especially on the sympathy
growth of vegetation. But the doctrine of lunar sympathy
does not stop there ; it is applied also to the affairs of man,
and various customs and rules have been deduced from it
which aim at the amelioration and even the indefinite
extension of human life. To illustrate this application of
the popular theory at length would be out of place here, but
a few cases may be mentioned by way of specimen.

The natural fact on which all the customs in question Theory
seem to rest is the apparent monthly increase and decrease {hfrigs wax
of the moon. From this observation men have inferred that or wane
all things simultaneously wax or wane in sympathy with it.-' ""^^oon. ^
Thus the Mentras or Mantras of the Malay Peninsula have a
tradition that in the beginning men did not die but grew
thin with the waning of the moon, and waxed fat as she
neared the full.^ Of the Scottish Highlanders we are told
that " the moon in her increase, full growth, and in her
wane are, with them, the emblems of a rising, flourishing,
and declining fortune. At the last period of her revolution
they carefully avoid to engage in any business of importance ;
but the first and middle they seize with avidity, presaging

1 This principle is clearly recognised Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society,
and well illustrated by J. Grimm No. 10 (Singapore, 1883), p. 190 ;
(Deutsche Mythologie,^ ii. 594-596). W. W. Skeat and C. O. Blagden,

2 D. F. A. Hervey, " The Mentra Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula
Traditions," /otirnal of the Straits (London, 1906), ii. 337.

369 2 B


the most auspicious issue to their undertakings." ^ Similarly
in some parts of Germany it is commonly believed that
whatever is undertaken when the moon is on the increase
succeeds well, and that the full moon brings everything to
perfection ; whereas business undertaken in the wane of the
moon is doomed to failure.^ This German belief has come
down, as we might have anticipated, from barbaric times ;
for Tacitus tells us that the Germans considered the new or
the full moon the most auspicious time for business ; ^ and
Caesar informs us that the Germans despaired of victory if
they joined battle before the new moon.* The Spartans
seem to have been of the same opinion, for it was a rule
with them never to march out to war except when the moon
was full. The rule prevented them from sending troops in
time to fight the Persians at Marathon,^ and but for
Athenian valour this paltry superstition might have turned
the scale of battle and decided the destiny of Greece, if not
of Europe, for centuries. The Athenians themselves paid
dear for a similar scruple : an eclipse of the moon cost them
the loss of a gallant fleet and army before Syracuse, and
practically sealed the fate of Athens, for she never recovered
from the blow.* So hea\y is the sacrifice which superstition
demands of its votaries. In this respect the Greeks were
on a level with the negroes of the Sudan, among whom, if a
march has been decided upon during the last quarter of the
moon, the departure is always deferred until the first day
of the new moon. No chief would dare to undertake an
expedition and lead out his warriors before the appearance
of the crescent. Merchants and private persons observe the
same rule on their joumeys.'^ In like manner the Mandingoes
of Senegambia pay great attention to the changes of the
moon, and think it very unlucky to begin a journey or any
other work of consequence in the last quarter.*

It is especially the appearance of the new moon, with

1 Rev. J. Grant (parish minister of * Herodotus, vi. io6 ; Lucian, De
Kirkmichael), in Sir John Sinclair's astrologia, 25 ; Pausanias, L 28. 4.
Statistical Acccntnt of Scotland, XYL, ^^"J. •* Thucydides, vii. 50.

2 Kuhn und Schwartz, Xorddeutsche ' Le capitaine Binger, Dtt Niger ait
Sa^en,Marchen undGebrauclu, p. 457, Golfe de GuirUe {Puiis, 1892), ii. 116.
J 419- ' Mungo Park, Travels in the

3 Tacitus, Germania, II. Interior Districts 0/ Africa^ {London,
* Caesar, De bello Gallico, i. 50. 1807), pp. 406 j-^.


its promise of growth and increase, which is greeted with The
ceremonies intended to renew and invigorate, by means of ^^5^^^°°;'^^^
sympathetic magic, the life of man. Observers, ignorant of new moon
savage superstition, have commonly misinterpreted such "ag°caT
customs as worship or adoration paid to the moon. In rather than

■ , c c ^ • r 111- religious,

point 01 lact the ceremonies of new moon are probably in being-
many cases rather magical than religious. The Indians of '"'^"'^^'^

to renew

the Ucayali River in Peru hail the appearance of the new sympatheti-
moon with great joy. They make long speeches to her, J^.^'iy "^^
accompanied with vehement gesticulations, imploring her
protection and begging that she will be so good as to
invigorate their bodies.^ On the day when the new moon
first appeared, it was a custom with the Indians of San Juan
Capistrano, in California, to call together all the young men
for the purpose of its celebration. " Correrla luna ! " shouted
one of the old men, " Come, my boys, the moon ! the moon !"
Immediately the young men began to run about in a
disorderly fashion as if they were distracted, while the old
men danced in a circle, saying, " As the moon dieth, and
cometh to life again, so we also having to die will again
live." ^ An old traveller tells us that at the appearance of
every new moon the negroes of the Congo clapped their
hands and cried out, sometimes falling on their knees, "So
may I renew my life as thou art renewed." But if the sky
happened to be clouded, they did nothing, alleging that the
planet had lost its virtue.^ A somewhat similar custom
prevails among the Ovambo of South-western Africa. On
the first moonlight night of the new moon, young and old,
their bodies smeared with white earth, probably in imitation
of the planet's silvery light, dance to the moon and address
to it wishes which they feel sure will be granted.^ We may
conjecture that among these wishes is a prayer for a renewal
of life. When a Masai sees the new moon he throws a
twig or stone at it with his left hand, and says, " Give me
long life," or " Give me strength " ; and when a pregnant

> W. Sinythe and F. Lowe, Narrative 1846), pp. 298 Sf.
of a Journey front Lima to Para ^ MeroUa, " Voyage to Congo," in

^London, 1836), p. 230. Pinkeiton's Voyages and Travels,

2 Father G. Boscana, " Chinig- xvi. 273.
chinich," in Zi/e in California, by an * \i.?>c!a\^z,Deutsch-Sudwestafrika,

American [A. Robinson] (New York, p. 319.


woman sees the new moon she milks some milk into a
small gourd, which she covers with green grass. Then she
pours the milk away in the direction of the moon and says,
" Moon, give me my child safely." ^ Among the Wagogo
of German East Africa, at sight of the new moon some
people break a stick in pieces, spit on the pieces, and throw
them towards the moon, saying, " Let all illness go to the
west, where the sun sets." ^ The Esthonians think that all
the misfortunes which might befall a man in the course of a
month may be forestalled and shifted to the moon, if a man
will only say to the new moon, " Good morrow, new moon.
I must grow young, you must grow old. My eyes must
grow bright, yours must grow dark. I must grow light as
a bird, you must grow heavy as iron." ^
Attempts In India people attempt to absorb the vital influence

drink the °^ the moon by drinking water in which the luminary is
moonlight, reflected. Thus the Mohammedans of Oude fill a silver
basin with water and hold it so that the orb of the full moon
is mirrored in it. The person to be benefited must look
steadfastly at the moon in the basin, then shut his eyes
and drink the water at one gulp. Doctors recommend the
draught as a remedy for nervous disorders and palpitation
of the heart. Somewhat similar customs prevail among the
Hindoos of Northern India. At the full moon of the month
of Kuar (September-October) people lay out food on the
house-tops, and when it has absorbed the rays of the moon
they distribute it among their relations, who are supposed to
lengthen their life by eating of the food which has thus been
saturated with moonshine. Patients are often made to look
at the moon reflected in melted butter, oil, or milk as a cure
for leprosy and the like diseases.*

' A. C. HoUis, The Masai (Oxford, The power of regeneration ascribed to

1905), p. 274. the moon in these customs is sometimes

2 H. Cole, "Notes on the Wagogo attributed to the sun. Thus it is said

of German Y.z&X. hinca." Journal of the that the Chiriguanos Indians of South-

A7ithropological Institute, yiiixa.{l()02) eastern Bolivia often address the sun

p. 330. as follows: "Thou art born and

' J. G. Kohl, Die Jeutsch-mssischen disappearest every day, only to revive

Ostseeprovinzen, ii. 279. Compare always young. Cause that it may be

Boecler-Kreutzwald, Z>er ^/^j/ew aber- so with me." See A. Thouar, ^x//o;-a-

gldubische Gebrcitiche, Weisen und tions dans I'Atniriqtie dii Sud (Paris,

Gewohnheiten, pp. ia,2 sq. ; J. Grimm, 1891), p. 50.
Deutsche Mythologie,^ ii. 595, note i. * W. Crooke, Popular /Religion and


Naturally enough the genial influence of moonshine is The
often supposed to be particularly beneficial to children ; for f^flu°nce of
will not the waxing moon help them to wax in strength and moonlight
stature? The Guarayos Indians, who inhabit the gloomy
tropical forests of Eastern Bolivia, lift up their children in
the air at new moon in order that they may grow.^ Among
the Apinagos Indians, on the Tocantins River in Brazil, the
French traveller Castelnau witnessed a remarkable dance by
moonlight. The Indians danced in two long ranks which infants
faced each other, the women on one side, the men on the P''^=f"'e<*

' ' to the

other. Between the two ranks of dancers blazed a great moon by
fire. The men were painted in brilliant colours, and for the Apinagos
most part wore white or red skull-caps made of maize-flour Indians of
and resin. Their dancing was very monotonous and con-
sisted of a jerky movement of the body, while the dancer
advanced first one leg and then the other. This dance they
accompanied with a melancholy song, striking the ground
with their weapons. Opposite them the women, naked and
unpainted, stood in a single rank, their bodies bent slightly
forward, their knees pressed together, their arms swinging in
measured time, now forward, now backward, so as to join
hands. A remarkable figure in the dance was a personage
painted scarlet all over, who held in his hand a rattle com-
posed of a gourd full of pebbles. From time to time he
leaped across the great fire which burned between the men
and the women. Then he would run rapidly in front of the
women, stopping now and then before one or other and
performing a series of strange gambols, while he shook his
rattle violently. Sometimes he would sink with one knee
to the ground, and then suddenly throw himself backward.
Altogether the agility and endurance which he displayed
were remarkable. This dance lasted for hours. When a
woman was tired out she withdrew, and her place was taken
by another ; but the same men danced the monotonous
dance all night. Towards midnight the moon attained the
zenith and flooded the scene with her bright rays. A change
now took place in the dance. A long line of men and

Folk-lore of Northern India (West- qtie MJridionale, iii. i'^ Partie (Paris
minster, 1896), i. 14 sq. and Strasburg, 1844), p. 24.

' A. d'Orbigny, Voyage dans VA^iUri-


women advanced to the fire between the ranks of the
dancers. Each of them held one end of a hammock in
which lay a new-born infant, whose squalls could be heard.
These babes were now to be presented by their parents to
the moon. On reaching the end of the line each couple
swung the hammock, accompanying the movement by a
chant, which all the Indians sang in chorus. The song
seemed to consist of three words, repeated over and over
again. Soon a shrill voice was heard, and a hideous old
hag, like a skeleton, appeared with her arms raised above
her head. She went round and round the assembly several
times, then disappeared in silence. While she was present,
the scarlet dancer with the rattle bounded about more
furiously than ever, stopping only for a moment while he
passed in front of the line of women. His body was con-
tracted and bent towards them, and described an undulatory
movement like that of a worm writhing. He shook his
rattle violently, as if he would fain kindle in the women the
fire which burned in himself. Then rising abruptly he would
resume his wild career. During this time the loud voice
of an orator was heard from the village repeating a curious
name without cessation. Then the speaker approached
slowly, carrying on his back some gorgeous bunches of
brilliant feathers and under his arm a stone axe. Behind
him walked a young woman bearing an infant in a loose
girdle at her waist ; the child was wrapped in a mat, which

Online LibraryJames George FrazerAdonis, Attis, Osiris; studies in the history of oriental religion → online text (page 40 of 50)