Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/367

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
353
CURIOSITIES OF SUPERSTITION.

the oldest traditions of the Eastern Aryans. Should it be a sort of inverted anthropomorphism—a typical form of ancestor-worship? Dr. Mivart is perhaps right that there were Darwinians before Charles Darwin, who was merely the first systematic exponent of a very ancient doctrine, for the dogma of metempsychosis itself is possibly nothing but a dimly expressed anticipation of the evolution theory.

"Poor creatures, so humble and so sublime," says Lucretius ("De Natura Rerum" published 45 b. c.), "you must now recognize that you are but the first of earthly animals. Your extraction is very base, you have sprung from very low, but by a slow series of efforts you have raised yourself above your inferior, brethren. I know your origin, but I can not see the goal to which you are tending; yet persevere and work on."

And Buddha:

"High above Indra's you may raise your lot,

And sink it lower than the worm or gnat;
The end of many myriad lives is this,

The end of myriads that."

And is it so illogical to believe in the possibility of a metamorphic retrogression, as well as progression? Have not the most godlike nations of antiquity "sunk their lot" very nearly to—and in some respects decidedly below—the level of our simian relatives?

Zoömorphism, as Carl Vogt calls the doctrine of metempsychosis, was taught on the banks of the Ganges before Abraham's father sold his stock-farm at Ur, in Chaldea, and there is no stranger fact in the natural history of religion than the ubiquity of this most ancient and most persistent form of supernaturalism. Its dogmas have tinctured the creed of every nation, and often revive in the most unexpected way. It is the basis of the eighteen Puranas of the Egyptian myths, and the traditions of the elder Edda. The strangely suggestive tales of the metamorphoses were probably borrowed from the religion of prehistoric Italy. The nations of Northern Europe had similar superstitions which still survive the exodus of the Druids. The Christian propagandists could persuade the Saxons and Celts to transfer their devotion from Walhalla to Calvary, but they could not shake their faith in were-wolves, kelpies, and amphibious Melusinas.

"That the creed of Mohammed," says Lecky, "should have preserved its pure monotheism and its freedom from all idolatrous tendencies. . . is a fact which we can only very imperfectly explain." But even the Koran did not eradicate the zoömorphic superstitions of the Southern Semites. Professor Brehm relates that his Bedouin guide implored him in the name of the All-merciful not to fire upon a troop of spotted jackals (Canis pictus), as these animals embodied the souls of potent wizards who would cruelly revenge the death of a companion. After the death of Caliph Walid—"El Caffer," the infidel, as the dervishes