It is said he took an opportunity of breaking in pieces all the idols he could reach, except Baal, and that he suspended about the neck of this idol the axe with which he had performed the destruction. The people coming to see what had been done, supposed that Baal was the author of the mischief. Some say that Abraham accomplished the exploit in his father's shop during his absence, and that Terah, returning home, inquired how the work of destruction had taken place. Abraham told him that the idols had quarrelled about an offering of flour that an old woman had brought them, and that Baal had proved the strongest, and broke all the rest to pieces.
The Arabians, Ishmael's offspring, were equally guilty of idolatry. So far did they carry this sin, that they actually worshipped idols under the shape of Egyptian thorns. In early times the thorns were adored in the open fields, but subsequently altars and temples were erected for their worship. The Arabians worshipped Assaf under the shape of a calf; and they had a goddess named Beltha, supposed to be the Venus of the Greeks.
The Sabeans were the principal worshippers of this goddess; and such was their devotion to her, that they regularly presented to her a portion of their plunder. The religion of the Carthaginians and Tyrians was horrid and barbarous. Nothing of moment was undertaken without consulting the gods, which was done in [Pg 25] various ridiculous ways. Hercules was the god in whom the people placed most confidence. He was invoked before they went on any important expedition; and when their armies were victorious, sacrifices were offered to him. One of the chief deities that they worshipped was Urania, or the moon, to whom they appealed when overtaken by calamities, such as drought, excessive rain, destructive hail, thunder, and dangerous storms.
Urania was the queen of heaven mentioned in the Scriptures, to whom even the Jewish women offered cakes, etc. Carthaginians, in worshipping Saturn, offered up human sacrifices to him. Even princes and other great men were wont, in times of distress, to sacrifice their most beloved children to this deity. People who had not any children of their own, purchased infants that they might offer them as victims to this idol, with the view of inducing him to fulfil their desires.
Diodorus relates that when Agathocles was going to besiege Carthage, the people imputed all their misfortunes to the anger of Saturn, because, that instead of offering up to him children nobly born, he had been fraudulently put off with the offspring of slaves and foreigners. To atone for past shortcomings, two hundred children of the best families in Carthage were sacrificed, and further, to obtain the god's favour, three hundred adult citizens immolated themselves.
Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, was an idolator, as were also his descendants. Nineveh was the seat of his empire. As the sun and moon became early objects of worship among the Assyrians, so in later days they adored the fire as their substitute,—a form of worship that was common among the ancients in many lands.
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The Assyrians published abroad that the gods of other nations could not stand before their fire-gods. A competition took place. A vast number of idols were brought from foreign nations, but as they were composed of wood, the god Ur or fire consumed them. After many contests, [Pg 26] an Egyptian priest discovered a plan of destroying the reputation of this idol, which had become the terror of alien people. He caused the hollow figure of an image to be made of perforated earth, with the holes stuffed with wax, and the large internal cavity filled with water. He then challenged the god Ur to oppose his god Canopus,—a challenge which was accepted by the Chaldean priests.
No sooner did the heat that was expected to devour the Egyptian idol begin to take effect, than, the wax being melted, the water gushed out and extinguished the fire. Before the Assyrian empire was joined to that of Babylon, Nisroch was the god worshipped in Nineveh, and it was in the temple of this idol that the great Sennacherib was murdered.
This idol was in the shape of a bird—a dove or an eagle—made, if we can believe the Jewish rabbis, from a plank of Noah's ark. The people repented at the preaching of Jonah, but it was not long before they relapsed into their former idolatry and general wickedness. Herodotus was of opinion that the Greeks derived their religion and superstition from the Egyptians; Plutarch arrived at another conclusion; while many maintained that [Pg 27] Orpheus brought the mysteries of religion into Greece. Whoever is right, this we know, that the Greeks became so prone to worship ancient deities, and so anxious to do homage to all the divinities, that they erected altars to unknown gods, for fear they would fail in their duty to any power that could assist them in time of need.
Above all gods, Jupiter was held in the highest esteem. He was regarded as the president of law and justice, as the protector of cities, as governor and director of their councils, and as chief of their societies. To him they ascribed thunder, and supposed it was he who delivered them from the Persians, and who assisted them to buy and sell to advantage.
They erected altars to him in the courts of their houses and before their gates. Regarding him as the god of strangers, they received and entertained visitors with great ceremony. As a sign of fidelity, the right hand of fellowship was given to a stranger, to whom salt was presented, in token that his person would be safe under the entertainer's roof. A stranger's bottle was kept, and when a visitor arrived at the door the head of the family and he joined feet together on the threshold.
A cup of wine was drunk to an unknown person before his name was asked. To return respect to those in the house, the stranger did reverence to the genius of the place, and saluted the ground with a kiss. When one sojourned in a strange land, he was expected to conform to the recognised customs thereof; and on taking his departure he not only bade farewell to those with whom he had become acquainted, but took leave of their deities.
When an important agreement was entered into, Jupiter was sacrificed to, and called to witness the covenant. The Greeks purified themselves after frightful dreams; they wore charmed rings to protect themselves from witchcraft; they were accustomed to spit three times on seeing a madman; and they spat every time the devil's name was mentioned in their hearing. Stones were cast [Pg 28] at every cat and weasel met by one when commencing a journey, and the meeting of a bitch with whelps was carefully avoided.
The crowing of hens and the whistling of maidens were listened to with as great fear as the hissing of a serpent. If a rat or a mouse ate a hole in one's clothes, evil, it was thought, was about to befall the luckless owner. The people had days of good luck and of bad omen. They cut their hair, and sacrificed it to rivers. They marked the flight of birds, particularly that of the owl. On seeing this night bird flying overhead at the battle of Salamis, the soldiers considered it a good sign, took courage, and won the fight. When one was going round an altar, he took care to keep his right hand towards it.
People anointed sacred stones in token of thankfulness, as Jacob poured oil on the stone he took for a pillow at Bethel.
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To know if one was in love, special notice was taken of his garland at a feast, and from its appearance the wearer's feelings were supposed to be known, though it might be thought there was no necessity for such observation; for, according to an old proverb, "Love and the cough can never be concealed. If one could not secure a lady's affections in the usual way of courting, he endeavoured to get something of hers into his possession in order to bewitch her.
Having received a glove, a ring, or any other article, he operated on it in a magical way, and thus obtained his desire. If a lady's girdle was properly tied into a true-lover's knot, she could not resist loving him who performed the charming trick. Another way of softening a woman's heart was by throwing a bitten apple into her lap. If she received it and ate the fruit, her affections were won. All the tokens and charms did not come from the gentleman's side, for it was not unusual for a lady, when she wanted to control a lover's affections, to send him charmed garlands, roses, or bitten apples.
Cakes were bestowed on the bride on her marriage day; and there was a custom among the Greeks and Romans of combing her hair with a spear which had belonged to a man that lost his life in a fight, or with a weapon that had been used in killing a man. If this was done, she was sure to have brave sons. As the bride rose to leave her father's house, she was carried over the threshold; and as she entered her husband's house, a practice similar to that observed among other nations was followed,—throwing figs and other fruit at her head, as an omen of fruitfulness.
It was also the custom for a servant, on first coming into his new home, to have palm branches and various ornaments placed on his head, to secure prosperity. As the bride was led into her chamber, there was a sieve carried along with her, and a pestle hung at the door, implying that afterwards she was to assist in the household duties. When the bride and bridegroom were together in the house, they ate an apple between them, to signify the pleasantness and harmony they were to enjoy in after life. Recourse was had to augury, the day before the wedding, to ascertain whether the married life was to be prosperous.
Before the bride retired for the night, she was bathed with water drawn from nine different springs. The time of the year the Grecians deemed most lucky for marriage was the first month of winter. This was contrary to the views of the Persians, who considered spring the proper season for entering into the matrimonial state. The Greeks thought it better to get married in the first or second quarter of the moon rather than when it was waning. General rules were at times departed from, for occasionally astrologers were consulted as to the most auspicious day and hour for the happy lovers being united.
When a child came into the world, three men kept watch all night to keep away evil spirits. One of those on guard was armed with an axe, another with a pestle, and the third with a broom. Each protector kept his implement swinging through the air, to prevent the approach of the dreaded beings. As soon as a child was born it was washed in water or wine, and wrapped in a cloth worn by the mother when she was a virgin. In the cloth were wrought the image of the Gorgon and the snakes of that monster's head, together with the likenesses of two dragons.
When the child was five days old, it was carried about the hearth to introduce it to the Penates. Arrangements were then made for naming the child. A feast was prepared, at which there were doves, thrushes, coleworts, and toasted cheese, besides many other things. The feast was kept up for seven days. The mother, in gratitude for her child, sacrificed to Diana, and the father returned thanks to the nymphs for giving him a fruitful wife. If the little stranger died in infancy, it had only a cold funeral without fire, or any burial service or mourning.
Sons, as soon as they were three years old, were registered in the tribe. A feast was then prepared, called "the shearing feast," because at that time the youngster's hair was cut, and consecrated to one of their gods. The Athenians had a law, that if any one happened to discover a dead body, whether of a friend or a stranger, he should cast earth on it three times; and the Romans had a similar law. If a Greek omitted this duty, he was bound to make satisfaction by sacrificing a sow-pig.
But some went farther, and insisted that whoever saw a dead body and did not cast dust upon it, was both a law-breaker and an accursed person. The people feared that [Pg 31] the gods underground were angry if the dead were left uncovered with their kindred dust. No greater imprecation could have been cast at an enemy than that he might not be covered with the earth.
Hence it was that the ancients stood in great fear of death on the ocean, for there their bodies could not be interred. When one went to sea, it was not uncommon for him to tie a reward to his body, that in case he should be drowned and his body found, the finder would see it buried, and so become entitled to the treasure. Next to the happiness of being assured that the body would be buried, was that of being interred in one's own country, and not among strangers. When a man died far from home, frequent solemn invocations were made for his soul, which, it was thought, could hear and understand what was said by friends even in distant lands.
At the burial of one that was slain in battle, his comrades marched three times round the burning pile or grave, shaking their arms, and throwing swords, bridles, belts, and other articles into the fire or grave after the body. When a soldier fell fighting in the field, and his body could not be found, he was honoured with the carriage of an empty bier, and funeral ceremonies as if his remains were present. If a man killed himself, the hand with which the deed was committed was cut off, and buried in another place to that in which the other part of the body was interred.
If one man killed another in a righteous cause, the slayer washed his hands and held up the weapon that had been used towards the sun, with the blood on it, to show that he feared not though the heavens as well as the earth knew what he had done. The ancients were of opinion that if one were slain by a relative, the blood could never be thoroughly wiped off the blade that had cut down the individual.
And for fear the Furies would avenge the death of one killed by a relation, amulets and spells were provided to prevent untoward events. The [Pg 32] most powerful charms were supposed to be parts of the slain individual. Therefore the fingers, toes, and other extreme parts of the body were cut off and worn under the arm-pits, to prevent the murdered person's ghost taking revenge for the unlawful deed. In preparing a body for burial, the Greeks took a piece of money and put it into the mouth, to give to the ferryman Charon. With the money a small quantity of pudding or cheese was put in for Cerberus, to propitiate him.
As a corpse was being carried out to be interred, the deceased was commended to the protection of the infernal gods. To burn a body was considered more honourable than to lay it in the cold grave, for the Greeks thought that the divine and purer part of man was carried by fire to the abode of the gods above. This belief induced fanatical persons, when tired of life below, to burn themselves, that they might all the sooner take their flight to the regions of bliss. If a high wind sprang up when a body was being consumed by flames, it was regarded as a favourable omen. On the body being consumed, the fire was extinguished with red wine.
After a funeral, the people fumigated the house with brimstone, and cleansed themselves by passing over a fire. They then kept a feast, or rather feasts, at which they sacrificed to Mercury, that he might carry the soul of the deceased to the realms of happiness. At the same time the ghosts of relations were sacrificed to. Those who petitioned the gods had garlands about their necks, or green boughs in their hands. The branches were either laurel or olive, because the former signified triumph, and the latter peace and goodwill.
Swine and swine's flesh were held in high esteem by the Greeks and Romans, for various reasons—one of which was that Jupiter was nursed by a sow. It was the custom to drink healths or toasts, and the last one before going to bed was to Mercury, that he might give sound sleep and [Pg 33] pleasant dreams. Great men would, on a high occasion, drink to a favourite, and hand him the cup to keep. When a person drank to the health of one he loved, he partook of part of the liquor, and poured the remainder of the wine on the ground. Drinking cups in remote times were made from bulls' horns.
The Greeks consecrated their horses to the sun, and before engaging in war they consulted their prophets and diviners. In particular, they paid great attention to the utterances of Egyptian priestesses kept by them. Then, similar to the manner of the Jews, Persians, and others, the Greeks consecrated to the gods, in the event of obtaining victory, portions of goods secured from the vanquished; and even relations were offered in sacrifice to the gods supposed to have given triumph to the victorious armies.
A Greek general did not think it lucky to march his forces before full moon, or until the seventh day of the month. Sacrifices were offered to the water when an army came to a river,—a custom observed by other nations. Certain words were never pronounced by the Greeks. For instance, they carefully withheld their lips from uttering "prison;" and if they happened to hear what they thought an unlucky speech, they replied, "Let it return to thine own head.
Sneezing was so superstitiously regarded, that it came to be counted among the number of gods. It was deemed inauspicious if a host sent his guests away from a feast without giving each of them a piece of cake, or such like, to take home. The cracking of a table and the spilling of wine or salt were regarded as evil omens. When a Greek ship was in danger in a storm, one of the crew or a passenger was chosen by lot, and thrown overboard, like Jonah, to appease the spirit that ruled the winds and the waves.
The old Roman delusions and customs were as extraordinary as those of any nation with which history has made us acquainted. The augurs pretended to foretell future events from the flight of birds and the chirping and feeding of fowls, and also from other appearances. Auspicium was properly the foretelling of future events from the inspection of birds; augurium from any omen or prodigy whatever. The augurs are supposed to have derived tokens of futurity chiefly from five sources—appearances in the heavens such as thunder or lightning , from the singing or flight of birds, from the feeding of fowls, from the movements of quadrupeds, and from uncommon accidents.
The birds which chiefly gave omens by sound were ravens, crows, owls, and cocks,—and those by flight, eagles and vultures. Contempt of the augurs, and neglect of their intimations, were said to be followed by dire misfortunes. Omens coming from the left were generally supposed by the Romans to be lucky. The Romans, as the Greeks had done before them, took omens from quadrupeds crossing their path or appearing in unaccustomed places.
The augurs taught the people how to draw conclusions from sneezing, spilling salt, and other accidents, called dira. Drawing of lots was frequently resorted to by the Romans wishing to pry into futurity. The lots were dice, or articles resembling those instruments of chance. They were thrown into an urn filled with water, or cast as dice in the ordinary way. If there was any difficulty in ascertaining the import of the dice throwing, the priests were employed to interpret.
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Future events were frequently inquired into by an inquisitive person cutting the branch of a tree into small pieces, and distinguishing them by certain marks, and then scattering them at random on a white cloth. The searcher after knowledge having prayed to the gods, took up the slips three times, and interpreted according to the marks. Future events were often inquired into by reading the first line or passage which happened to turn up on opening a book, or by observing the stars.
It was supposed to be lucky to be born under a certain star, and unlucky to come into the world under another. Astrologers were consulted regarding one's natal hour. Fortune-tellers and books of fate were consulted on the most trivial occasions; and persons aspiring to the magistracy, after saying their prayers in the open air, had recourse to augury with the view of ascertaining whether the gods favoured their cause. Great attention was paid by the Romans to dreams, and persons of disordered minds were supposed to possess the faculty of presaging future events.
Omens of futurity were also drawn from the appearance of the entrails of animals offered in sacrifice to the gods. The flame and smoke [Pg 36] from the altar were noticed, and so were the circumstances attending the driving, felling, and bleeding of the victim. Sibylline books were inspected by appointment of the senate at perilous times, as they were supposed to contain the fate of the Roman Empire.
There was something mysterious about the origin of the sibylline books. Upon Tarquin refusing to give her the price asked, she went away and burned three of them. Returning soon after, she sought the same price for the remaining six. Still the price was refused, and she went away and burned other three books. She again came to the king, and demanded the same price for the three unconsumed volumes as she had asked for the nine.
Tarquin, who first regarded the woman as a senseless old creature, became surprised at her strange behaviour, and inquired at the augurs what he should do. They advised him to give the woman the price she demanded. The woman delivered the books, and, after desiring that they should be carefully kept, disappeared, and was never seen again.
The use of charms and incantations originated in the worship of the heathen gods. As people in this country believe that spirits, good and bad, go about at night, so did the Romans suppose that their gods went up and down the earth during the night to observe the actions of men. The priests and others, when engaged in acts of piety or important business, took care, when turning, to move to the right. Every Roman avoided repeating words of bad omen. Certain days were reckoned unfortunate for the celebration of marriages. The month of May was thought an unlucky time for marriages being solemnized.
The most fortunate time for weddings taking place was in the middle of June. The dress of a bride on her marriage day was a long white robe and her face was covered with a veil, in token of her modesty; her hair [Pg 37] was divided with the point of a spear into six locks, and she was crowned with flowers. No marriage was celebrated before recourse to auspices.
The nuptial ceremony was performed in the bride's father's house, or in the residence of the nearest relation. In the evening the bride was conducted to her husband's house, taken thither apparently by force from the arms of her mother or other relative, in memory of the violence used to the Sabine women. Three boys, whose parents were alive, attended her; two of them supported her by the arms, while the third walked before, bearing a flambeau of pine or thorn. Maid-servants followed with a distaff and wool, intimating that she was to spin as matrons formerly did.
Many relations and friends attended the nuptial procession. The young men repeated jests and made sport as she passed along. The bride bound the door-posts of her new home with woollen fillets, and anointed them with the fat of swine or wolves, to prevent enchantments. She was lifted over the threshold, or lightly leaped over it, as it was thought ominous to put her foot upon it, because the threshold was sacred to Vesta, the goddess of virgins. Both she and her husband touched fire and water, as all things were supposed to be produced from these two elements.
With the water their feet were bathed. The husband gave a feast, and musicians attended and sang the nuptial song. After supper the bride was conducted to her bed-chamber by matrons who had been only once married, and laid on her couch, which was covered with flowers; songs were then sung by young women before the chamber door till midnight.
Next day another entertainment was given by the husband, when presents were sent to the bride by her friends and relations; and she began her family duties by performing sacred rites. Great attention was paid to funeral ceremonies. Many people believed that the souls of the unburied were not admitted into the abodes of the dead before they had [Pg 38] wandered about the Styx at least a hundred years.
If one happened to discover an unburied body and did not throw earth on it, he was compelled to expiate his crime by sacrificing a hog to Ceres. When persons were at the point of death, their nearest relation present endeavoured to catch the expiring breath with their mouth, as they believed the soul or living principle went out by the mouth. The nearest relation among the Romans closed the eyes and mouth of the deceased, after putting money into the mouth for the ferryman who was to take the soul of the dead over the lake it had to cross. A branch of cypress placed at the door where the deceased lay, indicated that there was a dead body within.
People were invited to public funerals by a herald. Magistrates and priests were supposed to be violated by seeing a corpse, and therefore the dead were generally buried at night with torch-light. At funeral processions pipers and other musicians attended, and women sang the funeral song or the praises of the deceased to the sound of the flute.
By the law of the twelve tables, the number of flute players was restricted to ten. Next followed actors and buffoons, who danced and sang, while one of them imitated the deceased's words and actions when alive. Before the corpse there were carried the images of the deceased and of his ancestors. The ancients buried their dead at their own houses, whence arose the fear of hobgoblins, and a belief in lares, supposed to be the souls of the deceased. When the body was laid in the tomb, the people present were sprinkled three times with pure water by the priest, and when the friends returned home they were again sprinkled.
Beans, lettuces, bread, eggs, etc. Offerings were made to appease the manes. If a person, falsely reported to have been dead, returned home, he did not enter his house by the door, but went into it through the roof. Dead bodies were [Pg 39] often violated for magical purposes, by stripping them of valuable articles, or cutting off fingers, toes, or arms. Wax images of deceased persons were made, and, after a variety of ridiculous ceremonies, burned on piles, from the tops of which eagles were let loose to convey to heaven the souls set free from the body.
In Ethiopia, superstition was general over the entire empire. The Ethiopians used a sacred bread, called the corban. While this bread was being made, the baker was obliged to repeat seven psalms. Upon every loaf there were twelve impressions of the cross, and each cross was within a square. Ethiopian monks slept on a mat spread on the ground, and before lying down they stretched out their hands one hundred and fifty times in the form of a cross. Baptism was understood by the people of this empire to be a solemn ceremony that washed away all impurities; but the rite was observed by nearly all the ancient nations, in memory of the Deluge.
Each heathen Indian tribe had a separate god. Some tribes even worshipped boiled rice; after the same manner the Egyptians paid homage to leeks. Indian writers say that, in the beginning, a woman, whose name was Paraxacti brought into existence by the great Creator , had three sons,—the first named Bruma, who came into life with five heads. He was endowed with the power of creating all inferior beings. The name of the second was Vixnu, appointed lord of providence and preserver of all things formed by Bruma.
The third was named Rutrem, whose function or inclination was to destroy all things his other two brothers had made and preserved.
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Rutrem, like his brother Bruma, had five heads. Bruma assumed the form of a stag; and, to punish him for a serious crime he committed when in that shape, his brothers and thirty thousand millions of gods punished him by cutting off one of his heads. According to the notions of Indian heathens, Bruma writes upon the forehead of every child an account of all that shall happen to him in the world.
It is reported of Vixnu that he metamorphosed himself at pleasure. He first took the form and nature of a fish, and the second form assumed was that of a tortoise. The Indians believed there were seven seas in the world,—one of milk, of so delicious a nature that the gods ate butter made of it. One day, when the gods wanted to feast on the butter according to custom, they brought to the shore of the milk sea a high mountain of gold, which supported fourteen worlds that composed the universe. The uppermost part of the mountain served for a resting place, and over it was brought an adder of monstrous size, having a hundred heads.
The gods made use of this adder as a rope, in order to get at the butter more easily; but while they were attempting to procure the [Pg 41] butter, the giants, who had a continual hatred against the gods, drew the adder on the other side with so much violence that it shook the whole universe, and sunk it so low, that Vixnu, in his tortoise form, placed himself under it and supported it. Meanwhile the hundred-headed adder, being unable any longer to endure the pain the gods and giants inflicted on him, vomited poison upon the giants, which killed many of them on the spot.
Vixnu afterwards assumed the form of a beautiful woman, and such of the giants as remained alive fell in love with the fair being. In this guise, he amused the giants till the gods had eaten all the butter. In his third incarnation, Vixnu changed himself into the form of a hog, in consequence of the following circumstance:—One day a contest arose between the three gods, Bruma, Vixnu, and Rutrem, regarding the extent of their power. Rutrem undertook to go and hide himself, and at the same time promised to submit himself to him who should first discover his head and feet; but if they could not find these parts, then the baffled gods were to acknowledge him their superior.
Bruma and Vixnu having agreed to this proposal, Rutrem vanished, and hid his head and feet in places a great distance from each other, where he imagined they could not be found. Bruma, in the likeness of a swan, commenced to search for the head, but, finding he could not obtain any trace of it, he resolved to return home. Just, however, as he was going to give up the search, he met the thistle flower, which came and saluted him, and showed the place where Rutrem had hid his head. Rutrem, exasperated, cursed the flower, and forbade it ever to enter his presence. For this reason, his followers prevented thistles being brought into their temples in any part of the East Indies.
For the purpose of finding the feet, Vixnu transformed himself into a hog, and went from place to place digging into the earth, but without success. For cogent reasons, [Pg 42] Vixnu next assumed the form of a man and lion at the same time. Rutrem, it appears, conceived a strong friendship for one Iranien, a mighty giant, and granted him the privilege that no one should kill him either by day or by night. Instead of the giant proving grateful, he became proud and overbearing, and even insisted on being worshipped as a god. To punish the giant, Vixnu suddenly appeared before him in the form of a cloud, and then, taking the monster shape of a being half-man half-lion, resolved to take vengeance on the ungrateful wretch.
In the evening, when Iranien was standing at the threshold of his door, Vixnu sprang at him, tore him to pieces, and drank his blood. But the blood affected Vixnu so much that he became stupid. Vixnu's fifth transformation was into a dwarf. At that time a cruel king's subjects appealed to Vixnu to relieve them of their oppressor, and, to carry out the people's desire, he, in the form of a dwarf, went to the city where the tyrant kept court.
The dwarf begged from the king a grant of three feet of ground whereon to build himself a house. The tyrant was about to comply with the request, when the morning star, which attended the king in the character of secretary of state, suspected there was treason in the case.
It was common, when requests were granted, for the king to take water into his mouth and pour some of it into the hand of the suppliant, and therefore the secretary, by the assistance of magic, slipped imperceptibly down the prince's throat, in order to prevent the water being thrown out.
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The magic had not the desired effect; for the king, finding something in his throat, forced a sharp instrument into it, which put out one of the secretary's eyes, and the water gushed out, ratifying the agreement. Vixnu changed himself into a monster so large that the whole earth was not sufficient to afford room for his feet.
He then said to the king, "You have given me three feet of earth, and yet the whole world can scarcely [Pg 43] contain one of my feet: where am I to place the other? The wretched king, finding himself condemned to such a place of torment, begged pardon and mercy of Vixnu, but all the favour he received was one day's respite every year, to enable him to take part at a particular ceremony, to be observed in commemoration of his own downfall and punishment.
Vixnu's sixth form was that of a white man. He subdued many tyrants, and washed his hands in their blood. In this form he destroyed many giants, and compelled all the apes in the country to attend him. The last form Vixnu assumed was that of a black man, in which likeness his cunning and success were not less marked than when he was disguised in several of his former shapes.
Here is another story told of him:—There was a great tyrant named Campsen, a violent persecutor of good men, who had a sister called Exudi. It happened that the soothsayers, of whom there were many in the country, having consulted the stars, told the king that Exudi would have eight children, and that the youngest of them would kill him. This enraged the monarch so much that he destroyed seven of her children as soon as they were born. Notwithstanding the natural affliction of the princess, she became pregnant for the eighth time, but, wonderful to relate, of no less a personage than the god Vixnu, who, unknown to her, succeeded in finding a place in her womb.
Fearing the child would be conveyed beyond his reach as soon as it was born, the king placed spies everywhere to prevent the young prince's escape. The supposed father of the child succeeded in carrying him away, and placing him under the care of shepherds far up the mountains. Every effort was made by the baffled monarch to discover the young prince, and at last he found him. Desiring to be the executioner himself, he went and laid hold of the child to [Pg 44] murder him.
Just as the hand was raised to inflict the fatal blow, the prince vanished, and in his room appeared a little girl, whom the tyrant also attempted to kill; but she too, after mocking the king, disappeared uninjured. Vixnu grew from boyhood to manhood, when he raised an army against Campsen, whom he defeated and slew with his own hands, fulfilling the prediction of the soothsayers. Vixnu married two wives, but, neither of them pleasing him, he divorced them and espoused sixteen thousand shepherdesses.
The people imagined that he would appear some time or another in the form of a horse, but thought that until that metamorphosis took place he would wallow in a sea of milk, with his head supported by a beautiful snake. We are informed that Rutrem, the third son of Paraxacti, was much respected by the people, though, judging from the accounts transmitted to us, the wonder is that he was not detested. He married Parvardi, daughter of a king, whose dominion was in the mountains, with whom he lived a thousand years; but his two brothers, Bruma and Vixnu, having disapproved of the match, gathered together the thirty thousand millions of gods, and went in search of him.
Accordingly he was found and dragged away from his wife, which caused him to wander up and down the earth in search of forbidden pleasures. One day the earth gave him a son with seven heads; but as a nurse could not be got to bring up the child, the seven stars undertook the task. Parvardi, disconsolate at the loss of her husband, went in search of him, but could not discover his place of abode.
In her lonely state, she begged the gods would give her a son,—a request that was complied with, for a man-child dropped out of the sweat of her forehead. In the meantime Rutrem returned to his house, and, finding the child, became exceedingly enraged. His anger, however, turned into love on being informed of the miraculous manner in which he was born. The [Pg 45] king of the mountains made a feast, to which the gods were invited, but Rutrem, his son-in-law, was not asked. This want of respect provoked him so much that he went to the banquet, and, laying hold of one of the gods, tore off a handful of hair from his head.
From the hair a giant of enormous size started up, whose head reached to the firmament, and struck the sun with so great violence that all its teeth were knocked out. For this reason, the Indians refused to offer anything to the sun but what could be eaten without teeth. Not satisfied with knocking out the teeth of the sun, he bruised the moon so severely that the marks remain to the present day. He then killed several of the guests, among whom was his step-son, created from the sweat of his mother's forehead.
Vinayaguien that was the youth's name lost his head, and had it replaced with that of an elephant. In the disfigured state into which he was turned, his father dispatched him in search of a wife as beautiful as his mother,—a task that proved endless, because there could not be found a woman equal in beauty to his maternal parent.
Rutrem married the River Ganges, which was represented under the form of a blooming woman. At that time there was a giant named Piamejuran, who had for several years undergone a severe penance for having offended Rutrem, but, becoming sensible of his offence, desired to be absolved. The favour was granted him, with the privilege of reducing to ashes everything he laid his hands upon. The power with which he was endowed proved his death.
One day he went to the Ganges to bathe, and, lifting his hand to his forehead, it reduced him to dust. At their marriages, the Indians were very superstitious, and paid great regard to omens. The consent of the parents being obtained, and a fortunate day appointed, the parties met with the relations, when the bridegroom [Pg 46] threw three handfuls of rice on the head of the bride, and she cast an equal quantity at him. Part of the marriage ceremony consisted of the fathers of both bridegroom and bride putting a piece of money and a small quantity of water into the bride's hand.
This being done, the bridegroom hung a ribbon, with a coin attached to it, round her neck. As soon as a man died, his beard was shaved, his body washed, lime put into his mouth, and women rubbed his face with rice. When the body was burned, the deceased's ashes were thrown into the Ganges, for the water of that river was supposed to have a virtuous and holy influence on whatever it touched.
The Brahmins believed that there were five different degrees of glory after death. Bruma, with his wife Sarassuadi, was in the fourth state attended by a large swan, on which he rode abroad, this god being supposed to be exceedingly fond of travelling. None but the most innocent were exalted to the fifth seat of glory. Cows' dung was spread over the floors of Indian temples; and such was the people's reverence for the cow, that when sacrificing they poured milk on their altars.
Their priests pretended that their gods had oracles, by which they could foretell future events. When several persons were suspected of stealing anything, and the guilty one could not be discovered by ordinary means, the priests wrote the names of the suspected persons on different pieces of paper, and laid them down before the altar, and invoked their oracle, after which they locked the doors, so that no person could get in. When they returned and found any paper removed, the person whose name was on it was declared to be the criminal.
On the priests addressing their oracles, they became so excited that they remained for hours seemingly in great agony. After recovering, they explained to the people the sayings of the oracles. The Indians had tables of astronomy which [Pg 47] they consulted.
When the moon was eclipsed, they believed she was fighting with a black devil. The Indians supposed that by means of magic a man could change himself into the form of a lion or any other animal he chose. We have heard of one John Gondalez, who changed himself into the shape of a lion, and in that form was shot by a Spaniard. The day on which Gondalez was fired at he was reported to be sick. A clergyman was called in to take his confession. The pious man, in giving an account of what he saw and heard, said, "I saw Gondalez's face and nose all bruised, and asked him how he had received the injuries.
He told me that he had fallen from a tree and nearly killed himself. After this he accused the Spaniard of shooting at him. The affair was inquired into by a Spanish justice of the peace. My evidence was taken, and I told what Gondalez had said to me regarding his fall. The Spaniard swore that he had shot at a lion in a thick wood, where an Indian was not likely to be. Gondalez was examined as to how he was not seen by the Spaniard when he went to look for the lion; to which he replied that he ran away lest the Spaniard should kill him. As Gondalez's dealings with the devil were well known to all in the neighbourhood, it was held that he had received his injuries when roaming as a four-footed beast; and therefore the justice discharged the Spaniard.
The gentleman a clergyman who told the story of John Gondalez, gives another tale equally interesting. John Gomez, the chief of an Indian town, was nearly eighty years of age, and reputed to be possessed of more than ordinary shrewdness. His advice was preferred to that of all other chiefs. He seemed to be a very godly Indian, and very seldom missed morning and evening prayers in the church. I therefore visited Gomez, who lay with his face muffled. He confessed, wept, and showed a willingness to die. I comforted him, after which I returned home to refresh myself.
Scarcely had I crossed [Pg 49] the threshold of my house than I was called on to visit the sick man a second time, and give him extreme unction. As I anointed him on his nose, lips, hands, eyes, and feet, I perceived he was swollen black and blue. I went home again, and after I had rested a little, an Indian called to buy candles to offer up for the soul of John Gomez, who, he told me, had departed. I went to the church, and found the grave being prepared for the deceased. Two Spaniards, to whom I spoke, told me of a great stir being made in the town concerning the death of Gomez.
Amused at the information received, I desired a full and particular account of the whole circumstances. They told me that Gomez was the chief wizard of the town—that he was often changed into a tiger, and in that form walked about the mountains. Wondering at this statement, I went straight to the prison, where, I was told, I might obtain information on the subject.
At the stronghold the officers communicated to me the whole matter. There were witnesses, they said, who saw a lion and a tiger fighting, and presently lost sight of them, but saw in their places Gomez and a man named Lopez. Gomez returned home much bruised, and on his deathbed declared to his friends that Lopez had killed him. Lopez was therefore taken into custody, and put in irons.
The crown officers investigated the case with great care, and found that the body of Gomez was all bruised and torn in various places. Lopez, upon this, was taken to Guatemala, and there hanged, the evidence against him, in the estimation of the judges and people, being conclusive that he had fatally injured Gomez while the former was in the shape of a tiger, and the latter in the likeness of a lion. The inhabitants of Bisnagar, Deccan, and elsewhere believed that the moment a priest marked any one on the forehead with vermilion, the devil had no power over the person thus distinguished.
At Samorin there was a statue to which children were sacrificed. It was of brass, and, [Pg 50] when heated by a furnace underneath it, the children were thrown into its mouth and consumed. Flowers were scattered upon the altars during the sacrifices, and herbs, steeped in the blood of a cock, perfumed the idol. The cock's throat was cut with a silver knife dipped in the blood of a hen. At the conclusion of the barbarous ceremony, the priest walked backwards from the altar to the middle of the chapel, where he threw a handful of corn over his head.
The Ganges, as is well known, was, and still is, worshipped by a large number of people. Vast numbers of pilgrims continually visit this great river. Formerly, if not now, they bathed in it in a peculiar fashion, holding short straws in their hands while they were performing their ablutions. Gold and silver were often thrown into the stream, in testimony of admiration.
At Quailacara a remarkable ceremony took place once every twelve years. On the morning of the important day, the rajah, who was both high priest and sovereign, offered himself a sacrifice to the gods. He first delivered an oration, and then with a sharp instrument cut off his nose, lips, and ears, and concluded the tragical event by cutting his throat. Similar ceremonies were performed in the same district by scores of deluded devotees, who bent their steps to the most celebrated temples, where they cut off their flesh, piece by piece, and then stabbed themselves to death.
Their bodies were burned, and the ashes sold by the priests at high sums, as preservatives against disease. When the people came to bathe in the Ganges in the month of May, they erected piles of cows' dung, on which were placed baskets of rice, roots, and every description of vegetables. These were surrounded with wood besmeared with butter, and set on fire. From the appearance of the smoke and flame, those present pretended to discover whether the harvest was to be abundant or otherwise. At seed-time the priests took branches from trees, and [Pg 51] walked in procession with them, going three times round the temples.
A hole was then dug in the ground, and water from the Ganges poured into it. In this hole cows' dung and the branches were put and set on fire, and from the appearance of the flames the arch-priest was enabled to foretell what was to happen during the year. When a person was dying, he was carried to a river and dipped into it, that his soul and body might be purified. Happy was the individual who could be conveyed to the Ganges, because its waters were supposed to be possessed of virtues that did not exist in other rivers.
Sometimes the hands of the dying person were tied to a cow's tail, and the invalid dragged through the water. Book cover. Edited by: Yara Sameh. Art and science meet an engaged mind and the friction produces real fire. An irreverent picaresque Christian covers a great deal of ground with admirable clarity but with a lightness of touch He also has a real knack for summing up key ideas by applying them to real-life situations Who would have guessed that the best way to understand humanity was to study its imitators? A philosophical joyride connecting the thoughts of Aristotle with David Brent Something like this seems to be going on with the computer.
Brian Christian writes with a rare combination of what Pascal took to be two contrary mindsets: the spirit of geometry and the spirit of finesse. He takes both the deep limitations and halting progress of artificial intelligence as an occasion for thinking about the most human activity—the art of conversation. An invaluable sourcebook on computing in modern-day life.
This fabulous book demonstrates that we are capable of experiencing and sharing far deeper thoughts than even the best computers—and that too often we fail to achieve the highest level of humanness. Read also.