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Indians as a dragon, the spoiler of harvests, and the ravisher of the Apas, or brides of the gods, Peris who navigate the celestial sea.
Ohe Assyrian Sacred Gree. In intimate connection with the worship of Assur, the supreme deity of the Assyrians, “the God who created himself,” was the Sacred Tree, regarded by the Assyrian race as the personification of life and generation. This tree, which was considered coeval with Assur, the great First Source, was adored in conjunction with the god; for sculptures have been found representing figures kneeling in adoration before it, and bearing mystic offerings to hang upon its boughs. In these sculptured effigies of the Sacred Tree the simplest form consists of a pair of ram's horns, surmounted by a capital composed of two pairs of rams' horns, separated by horizontal bands, above which is a scroll, and then a flower resembling the Honeysuckle ornament of the Greeks. Sometimes this blossoms, and generally the stem also throws out a number of smaller blossoms, which are occasionally replaced by Fir-cones and Pomegranates. In the most elaborately-portrayed Sacred Trees there is, besides the stem and the blossoms, a network of branches, which forms a sort of arch, and surrounds the tree as it were with a frame.
The Phænicians, who were not idolaters, in the ordinary acceptation of the word—inasmuch as they did not worship images of their deities, and regarded the ever-burning fire on their altars as the sole emblem of the Supreme Being,-paid adoration to this Sacred Tree, effigies of which were set up in front of the temples, and had sacrifices offered to them. This mystic tree was known to the Jews as Asherah. At festive seasons the Phænicians adorned it with boughs, flowers, and ribands, and regarded it as the central object of their worship.
The Mother Sree of the Greeks, Romans, ano deutons.
The Greeks appear to have cherished a tradition that the first race of men sprang from a cosmogonic Ash. This cloud Ash became personified in their myth as a daughter of Oceanos, named Melia, who married the river.god Inachos, and gave birth to Phoroneus, in whom the Peloponnesian legend recognised the firebringer and the first man. According to Hesychius, however, Phoroneus was not the only mortal to whom the Mother Ash gave birth, for he tells us distinctly that the race of men was “the fruit of the Ash.” Hesiod also repeats the same fable in a somewhat different guise, when he relates how Jove created the third or brazen race of men out of Ash trees. Homer appears to have been acquainted with this tradition, for he makes Penelope say, when
addressing Ulysses : “Tell me thy family, from whence thou art; for thou art not sprung from the olden tree, or from the rock.” The Ash was generally deemed by the Greeks an image of the clouds and the mother of men,--the prevalent idea being that the Meliai, or nymphs of the Ash, were a race of cloud goddesses, daughters of sea gods, whose domain was originally the cloud sea.
But besides the Ash, the Greeks would seem to have regarded the Oak as a tree from which the human race had sprung, and to have called Oak trees the first mothers. This belief was shared by the Romans. Thus Virgil speaks
“Of nymphs and fauns, and savage men, who took
Their birth from trunks of trees and stubborn Oak.” In another passage the great Latin poet, speaking of the Æsculus, a species of Oak, sacred to Jupiter, gives to it attributes which remind us in a very striking manner of Yggdrasill, the cloud-tree of the Norsemen.
“ Æsculus in primis, quia quantum vortice ad auras
Ætherias, tantum radice in Tartara tendit.”—Georg. ii. “ High as his topmost boughs to heaven ascend,
So low his roots to hell's dominion tend.”—Dryden. In the Æneid, Book IV., speaking of the Oak as Quercus, Virgil uses the same expression with regard to the roots of Jove's tree descending to the infernal regions. Juvenal, also, in his sixth satire, alluding to the beginning of the world, speaks of the human race as formed of clay or born of the opening Oak, which thus becomes the mystical mother-tree of mankind, and, like a mother, sustained her offspring with food she herself created. Thus Ovid tells us that the simple food of the primal race consisted largely of “ Acorns dropping from the tree of Jove ;” and we read in Homer and Hesiod that the Acorn was the common food of the Arcadians.
The belief of the ancient Greeks and Romans that the progenitors of mankind were born of trees was also common to the Teutons. At the present day, in many parts of both North and South Germany, a hollow tree overhanging a pool is designated as the first abode of unborn infants, and little children are taught to believe that babies are fetched by the doctor from cavernous trees or ancient stumps.
Frau Holda's tree” is a common name in Germany for old decayed boles; and she herself, the cloud-goddess, is described in a Hessian legend as having in front the form of a beautiful woman, and behind that of a hollow tree with rugged bark.
But besides Frau Holda's tree the ancient Germans knew a cosmogonic tree, assimilating to the Scandinavian Yggdrasill. The trunk of this Teutonic world-tree was called Irminsul, a name implying the column of the universe, which supports everything.
A Byzantine legend, which is current in Russia, tells of a vast world-tree of iron, which in the beginning of all things spread its gigantic bulk throughout space. Its root is the power of God; its head sustains the three worlds,-heaven, with the ocean of air; the earth, with its seas of water; and hell, with its sulphurous fumes and glowing flames.
Rabbinic traditions make the Mosaic Tree of Life, which stood in the centre of the Garden of Eden, a vast world-tree, resembling in many points the Scandinavian Ash Yggdrasill.
A description of this world-tree of the Rabbins, however, need not appear in the present chapter, since it will be found on page 13.
MONGST all peoples, and in all ages, there has
lingered a belief possessing peculiar powers of
A tradition contained in the sacred books of the Parsis states that at the beginning of the world Ormuzd, the giver of all good, created the primal steer, which contained the germs of all the animals. Ahriman, the evil spirit, then created venomous animals which destroyed the steer: while dying, there sprang out of his right hip the first man, and out of his left hip the first man's soul. From him arose a tree whence came the original human pair, namely Mashya and Mashyoi who were placed in Heden, a delightful spot, where grew Hom (or Haoma), the Tree of Life, the fruit of which gave vigour and immortality. This Paradise was in Iran. The woman being persuaded by Ahriman, in the guise of a serpent, gave her husband fruit to eat, which was destructive.
The Persians also imagined a Paradise on Mount Caucasus. The Arabians conceived an Elysium in the midst of the deserts of Aden. The pagan Scandinavians sang of the Holy City of Asgard, situated in the centre of the world. The Celts believed an earthly Paradise to exist in the enchanted Isle of Avalon—the Island of the Blest,
" Where falls not hail or rain, or any snow,
And bowery hollows. The Greeks and Romans pictured to themselves the delightful gardens of the Hesperides, where grew the famous trees that
produced Apples of gold; and in the early days of Christendom the poets of the West dreamt of a land in the East (the true Paradise of Adam and Eve, as they believed) in which dwelt in a Palm-tree the golden-breasted Phænix,—the bird of the sun, which was thought to abide a hundred years in this Elysium of the Arabian deserts, and then to appear in the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis, fall upon the blazing altar, and, pouring forth a melodious song from or through the orifices of its feathers (which thus formed a thousand organ-pipes), cremate itself, only to rise again from its smoking ashes, and fly back to its home in the Palm-tree of the earthly Paradise. The Russians tell of a terrestrial Paradise to be sought for on the island of Bujan, where grows the vast Oak tree, amidst whose majestic branches the sun nestles to sleep every evening, and from whose summit he rises every morning.
The Hindu religion shadows forth an Elysium on Mount Meru, on the confines of Cashmere and Thibet. The garden of the great Indian god Indra is a spot of unparalleled beauty. Here are to be found an umbrageous grove or wood, where the gods delight to take their ease; cooling fountains and rivulets; an enchanting flower-garden, luminous flowers, immortalising fruits, and brilliantly-plumed birds, whose melody charms the gods themselves. In this Paradise are fine trees, which were the first things that appeared above the surface of the troubled waters at the beginning of the creation; from these trees drop the immortalising ambrosia. The principal tree is the Pârijata, the flower of which preserves its perfume all the year round, combines in its petals every odour and every flavour, presents to each his favorite colour and most-esteemed perfume, and procures happiness for those who ask it. But beyond this, it is a token of virtue, losing its freshness in the hands of the wicked, but preserving it with the just and honourable. This wondrous flower will also serve as a torch by night, and will emit the most enchanting sounds, producing the sweetest and most varied melody; it assuages hunger and thirst, cures diseases, and remedies the ravages of old age.
The Paradise of Mahomet is situated in the seventh heaven. In the centre of it stands the marvellous tree called Tooba,* which is so large that a man mounted on the fleetest horse could not ride round its branches in one hundred years. This tree not only affords the most grateful shade over the whole extent of the Mussulman Paradise ; but its boughs are laden with delicious fruits of a size and taste unknown to mortals, and moreover bend themselves at the wish of the inhabitants of this abode of bliss, to enable them to partake of these delicacies without any trouble. The Koran often speaks of the rivers of Paradise as adding greatly
* The name of " Tooba.” applied to this tree, originated in a misunderstanding of the words Tooba lahum, “it is well with them,” or “ blessedness awaits them," in Koran xij., 28. Some commentators took Tooba for the name of a tree.