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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/63

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53
A FLOCK OF MYTHOLOGICAL CROWS.

There are many arguments in support of both of these theories, the chief objection being that either one alone is too exclusive to account for all the facts; for, while there can be no doubt that ancestor-worship was the primitive and only religion of many, possibly all, the tribes of the earth at the dawn of their civilization, yet it is also certain that when tribes had formed settled communities, and a higher grade of culture had been attained, ancestor-worship was supplemented or supplanted by a worship of nature.

And since to primeval man none of the powers of nature seemed so beneficent or worthy of adoration as the sun, heliolatry was one of the most widely spread of all the religions of antiquity, and the daily conflict between the sun-god and clouds and darkness a never-ending theme for poet and priest. And as the incidents of these oft-repeated battles were handed down orally, from generation to generation, decked in all the glowing metaphors of exuberant fancy, the real nature of the deity they described and the celestial battles he waged would gradually be lost and forgotten, while the metaphoric names and metaphoric incidents would "survive the wreck of time" and come down to historic ages as actual incidents in the lives of real gods.

And it is in this mythological contest between the sun-god and the powers of darkness that we will find the origin of the demoniacal character of crows and ravens, these birds always representing in ancient thought the dark and terrible night, or the black and howling storm cloud, the natural and necessary opponents of all that was bright and divine and good, of which the sun was the source and origin, Nor were these metaphors far-fetched or inappropriate, the darkness of night settling silently down over the calm, still earth might not inaptly be compared to the descent of some black gigantic bird; and, to describe the fierce storm-cloud rushing through the sky "on the wings of the wind," no metaphor could be more exact than to liken it to a huge, ravening bird of prey. In most of the myths herein cited, the cloud seems to be the more exact equivalent of the bird, though in the earlier Hindoo mythology the cloud and the night are often convertible. The crow, as the metaphoric name of the cloud, also explains the connection of these birds with water, which we find not only in legends of the deluge but in many others.

The first Greek myth given is a degraded version of one of the numerous Hindoo myths of the god Indra, who slays the black dragon that has shut up the fertilizing waters: the white raven is the fleecy cloud of summer that contains no moisture; but, as autumn advances and figs ripen, the cloud grows blacker and brings rain. It is worth noting, also, that the monstrous dragon of India shrinks into an insignificant water-snake when transported to the less rank soil of Hellas.

In the Greek myth quoted from Ovid, we have another of those widely-spread myths of the sun and dawn. Koronis (κορωνις) is the