Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/365

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CURIOSITIES OF SUPERSTITION.

With bitter leaves lest palate should be pleased;
And next, a miserable saint, self-maimed,
Eyeless and tongueless, sexless, crippled, deaf."

(Edwin Arnold's "Light of Asia," p. 18.)

Or Wieland's satirical résumé:

"Der Glaube hiess es heilig, wenn
Der Fliegen, der Heuschrecken frass,
Und Jener gar mit seinera heil'gen Hintern
In einem Ameisen-haufen sass,
Um da andachtig zu ilberwintern."

Nor are those fancy sketches; such things are practiced in Hindostan to this day. Weber estimates the present number of professional Sannyassis at six hundred thousand; De Lanier at six hundred and fifty thousand; and Max Müller even at one million (vide "American Cyclopædia," article "Fakir"). The pi-ocession of the Juggernaut still frenzies the out-of-the-way villages of the Punjaub; the Brahma-whirlpool at the junction of the Jumna and the Ganges still claims its yearly hecatombs of human victims. In the southwestern presidencies the English Government has at last succeeded in abating the suicidal epidemics; the suttee-rite, for instance, has been effectually suppressed by fining all accomplices and abettors. But the beast-idolatry still flourishes, and bids fair to outlive the British Tract Society, as it has survived the Portuguese auto-da-fés. Crocodile-hunters still take their lives in their hands; the hanuman humbug continues to paralyze horticulture, and the most popular argument of the Nana Sahib demagogues was, not the nepotism of the foreign rulers, not the arrogance and partiality of the British bureaucrats, but the "cartridge-grievance": orthodox soldiers, in loading a musket, had been obliged to open with their teeth a pasteboard cartridge that had been greased with a mixture of steatite and beef-tallow!

The origin of zoölatry, or beast-worship, in some of its phases, is not easy to explain. The supreme usefulness of black cattle made them the representatives of the prithivi mâtar, the benevolent, all sustaining earth-mother. Crocodiles are invaluable scavengers, and in the granaries of Egypt cats were indispensable enough to deserve an apotheosis. But how did serpents and monkeys come by that honor? In Africa snake-worship marks the lowest stage of "animism," but nearly every nation seems to have passed through that stage. In a very curious account of the customs and superstitions of the Haytian negroes, Mr. Moreau ("History of St. Domingo," by Mr. L. E. Moreau) describes the Voodoo idol as "a serpent supposed to be endowed with the gift of prescience, which it communicates to its favorite attendants, the high-priest, and priestess of the Voodoo temple." This superstition Mr. Moreau believes to have been derived from Whydah,