Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/536

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

dancing, and slaughtering of animals. Among the Arabs there is an invocation of the dead, and sacrifices at the tombs of the chiefs once a year. The Eskimos hold religious feasts about the winter solstice and at New-year's. A yearly celebration of a tradition of a deluge is observed by the Mandan Indians. Among the ancient Phœnicians mourning rites were repeated annually.

We come now to consider how the more or less artificial subdivisions of time came to be used for periodical celebrations, and ultimately became fixed holidays. There appear historically arbitrary days, such as the three post-natal feast-days given by the Gond mother. On the fifth day after the birth of her child her female friends are feasted, male friends on the twelfth, and both together again on the thirteenth. Such an arrangement of dates is probably determined by the physical state of the mother and some conditioning social customs. It is by division of the lunar month, however, that the development continues among the more civilized peoples. A triple division in Tibet gave their original fast-days the 9th, 19th, and 29th; the Mongols, having fixed temples far removed, held three successive days, the 14th, 15th, and 16th; those of the Kalmucks are the 8th, 15th, and 30th. But, when the old Hindus, Arabs, and Syrians sacrificed at new and full moons, the beginning was made toward the Jewish Sabbath and our Sunday. The fourfold division of the lunar month by full and quarter moon religious or sacrificial feast-days gave the week and the magic number seven. With the Babylonians, the 7th, 12th, 21st, and 28th days of the month were called days of "sulum," or rest; certain works being forbidden on these days. This expression was transmitted from the older Accadians. Each of these days was consecrated to a different god, one of whom was the moon. Whether the Congo negroes got their frequent Sunday by a sevenfold division of the month we can not say positively, but it is certainly very significant that every fourth day is with them a general day of rest from work in the fields.

This process of subdivision is especially interesting to trace in Semitic and Jewish history, for it shows the perfectly natural rather than the supernatural origin of our "day of rest." The month is the old sacred division of time common to all the Semites. The Mohammedan and Jewish calendars are still lunar. The Semitic word "ahalla," meaning "to greet the new moon," was used of any festal joy, and became the type of religious festivity in general. "In the old Semitic scriptures the new moon and the Sabbath are almost invariably mentioned together." There were the same occasional feasts which we have found in the life of other barbarous peoples, much the same equinoctial, solstitial, and yearly festivals, so that the permanent subdivisions of the lunar