Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/693

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THE MIGRATION OF SYMBOLS.

pal directions from which rain comes, and is thus the symbol of the god dispenser of the celestial waters. If the Toltec cross could be related with a similar figure of the Old World, it would rather be the cross of ancient Mesopotamia—where that sign was also adopted to symbolize the four directions of space, and by extension the sky, or the god of the sky, Anou. But it would have to be established first that direct or indirect relations could have existed between the religious art of Mesopotamia and that of ancient America. To remove this hypothesis—even if we refuse to admit the development of a pre-Columbian civilization—it is only necessary to reflect upon the number of centuries that separate the American races from the great empires of the Euphrates and the Tigris. It would be wiser to see in the coincidence the simple result of two courses of reasoning identical in their simplicity.

On the other hand, we can not contest the facility with which symbols have been transmitted. Current products of industry, favorite themes of artists, they have passed continually from one country to another with articles of exchange and objects of adornment: witness the specimens of Hindoo, Chinese, and Japanese symbolical works and iconography which have come to us with the potteries, ivories, cloths, and all the curiosities of the extreme East. Soldiers, sailors, and travelers of every profession in former days could not start on a journey without taking in some form or another their symbols and gods, of which they carried the knowledge to a distance, bringing back in return those of the foreigner. Slavery would likewise favor the importation of symbols by the intervention of innumerable captives whom the fortunes of war or the hazards of piracy brought and caused to flow in from the most distant regions without taking away from them the remembrance of their gods or their worship. Coins, also, have never been wanting to carry to enormous distances the symbols of the nations which issued them: Gallic pieces are only counterparts of the Greek coinage of Philip and Alexander; and pieces rudely imitating Bactrian money have been found in the tumuli of Scandinavia.

Nothing, except perhaps a superstition, is as contagious as a symbol; much more contageous should both be when they are united—as they usually were with the people of antiquity, who seldom adopted a symbol without attaching to it the value of a talisman. Even now there are tourists who come back from Naples with a coral charm hung, according to their sex, from the bracelet or the watch-chain. Do they really believe that they find a defence against the evil eye in this Italian survival of an ancient Chaldean symbol? To many among them it is certainly only a local curiosity, a souvenir; but there are some in v the number who