Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/212

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while she was suckling Hercules. It was the celestial river of the Chinese, a shark-infested creek to the Tahitians; to another tribe, the field where their ancestors hunted ostriches; star-dust to the Peruvians. The Pleiades were regarded by the Iroquois and some of the ancients as a group of dancers, and are still figured in some parts of Europe as a hen and chickens. A tribe called the Chokitapia are said to have regulated their festivals by the appearance and disappearance of this group. When they disappeared, in the autumn in that country, was the time for beginning farm-work, the feast of the men; and the feast of the women was celebrated on their reappearance. The former festival referred to the burial or combustion of the seed; the latter to the return of the absent. The day before the reappearance of these stars the women rejoiced and danced around a pole. In the autumn, the dance of the dead was held. Women swore by the Pleiades, and men by the sun. In all religious festivals the calumet was presented toward the Pleiades, and prayers for happiness were addressed to them. These Indians believed that the Pleiades were seven young persons who guarded the holy seed during the night and executed a sacred dance over it. Epizors, the morning star, charmed with their grace, took them to the sky, where the stars were cheered by their gambols. The sand-dance of Malay warriors may convey some idea of this celestial dance. The bath of purification, prescribed by some of the medicine-men, comprised a triangular hole in which seven hot stones were dropped and covered over with cold water. In their invocations, the medicine-men prayed the Pleiades to help them heal bodily diseases. For talismans, they had seven bones, seven balls, or seven buttons.

The period of fifty-two years formed a complete era for the Aztecs, and they questioned whether at the end of that period the great heavenly clock, having performed its revolution, might not stop forever. This era menaced a considerable number of the population once in their lives, and some of them perhaps twice. The night on which the fifty-second year would expire was a solemn moment to them, and was signalized by extinguishing the sacred fires" in the temples and those on private hearth-stones, and by breaking all vessels that had contained provisions; and the evening was passed in darkness, with trembling and fear. The day was in November, when the Pleiades would culminate at midnight, and this moment was the termination of the century. As the hour appeared, the human victim was sacrificed, and the sticks were rubbed over his still quick body for striking the fire for his funeral pile and the inauguration of the new era. Men were waiting with torches ready to be lighted, with which the new fire was to be distributed to all the provinces. The moment of midnight was hailed with shouts of joy. The world had not