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FAMINE AND SUN-SPOTS.
anticipated Jupiter Pluvius. Vedic mythology is pervaded with stories of the demons that arrested the rain and stole the cloud-cows of Indra-shutting them away in caves,-and the god is endlessly praised for dealing death to such. He slays Vritra, the 'rain-arresting,' and Dribhika, Bala, Urana, Arbuda, ' devouring Swasna,'«unabsorbable Súshna,' Pipru, Namuchi, Rudhikrá, Varchin and his hundred thousand descendants;? the deadly strangling serpent Ahi, especial type of Drouth as it dries up rivers; and through all these combats with the alleged authors of the recurring Barrenness and Famine, as most of these monsters were, the seat of the evil was the Sungod's adorable self !
Almost pathetic does the long and vast history appear just now, when competent men of science are giving us good reason to believe that right knowledge of the sun, and the relation of its spots to the rainfall, might have covered India with ways and means which would have adapted the entire realm to its environment, and wrested from Indra his hostile thunderbolt — the sunstroke of famine. The Hindus have covered their lands with temples raised to propitiate and deprecate the demons, and to invoke the deities against such sources of drouth and famine. Had they concluded that famine was the result of inexactly quartered sun-dials, the land would have been covered with perfect sun-dials; but the famine would have been more destructive, because of the increasing withdrawal of mind and energy from the true cause, and its implied answer. Even so were conflagrations in London attributed to inexact city clocks; the clocks would become perfect, the conflagrations more numerous, through misdirection of vigilance. But how much wiser are we of Christendom than the Hindus ? 172
1 «Rig Veda,' vi. 14.
SUPERSTITION AND MACHINERY.
They have adapted their country perfectly for propitiation of famine-demons that do not exist, at a cost which would long ago have rendered them secure from the famine-forces that do exist. We have similarly covered Christendom with a complete system of securities against hells and devils and wrathful deities that do not exist, while around our churches, chapels, cathedrals, are the actually-existent seething hells of pauperism, shame, and crime.
‘Nothing can advance art in any district of this accursed machine-and-devil-driven England until she changes her mind in many things.' So wrote John Ruskin recently. Of course, so long as the machine toils and earns wealth and other power which still goes to support and further social and ecclesiastical forms, constituted with reference to salvation from a devil or demons no longer believed in, the phrase 'machine-and-devil-driven' is true. Until the invention and enterprise of the nation are administered in the interest of right ideas, we may still sigh, like John Sterling, for 'a dozen men to stand up for ideas as Cobden and his friends do for machinery. But it stiil remains as true that all the machinery and wealth of England devoted to man might make its every home happy, and educate every inhabitant, as that every idolatrous temple in India might be commuted into a shield against famine.
Our astronomers and economists have enabled us to see clearly how the case is with the country whose temples offer no obstruction to christian vision. The facts point to the conclusion that the sun-spots reach their maximum and minimum of intensity at intervals of eleven years, and that their high activity is attended with frequent fluctuations of the magnetic needle, and increased rainfall. In 1811, and since then, famines in India have, with one
exception, followed years of minimum sun-spots. These facts are sufficiently well attested to warrant the belief that English science and skill will be able to realise in India the provision which Joseph is said to have made for the seven lean years of which Pharaoh dreamed.
Until that happy era shall arrive, the poor Hindus will only go on alternately adoring and propitiating the sun, as its benign or its cruel influences shall fall upon them. The artist Turner said, “The sun is God.' The superb effects of light in Turner's pictures could hardly have come from any but a sun-worshipper dwelling amid fogs. Unfamiliarity often breeds reverence. There are few countries in which the sun, when it does shine, is so likely to be greeted with enthusiasm, and observed in all its variations of splendour, as one in which its appearance is rare. Yet the superstition inherited from regions where the sun is equally a desolation was strong enough to blot out its glory in the mind of a writer famous in his time, Tobias Swinden, M.A., who wrote a work to prove the sun to be the abode of the damned. The speculation may now appear only curious, but, probably, it is no more curious than a hundred years from now will seem to all the vulgar notion of future fiery torments for mankind, the scriptural necessity of which led the fanciful rector to his grotesque conclusion. These two extremes—the Sun-worship of Turner, the Sun-horror of Swinden,-survivals in England, represent the two antagonistic aspects of the sun, which were of overwhelming import to those who dwelt beneath its greatest potency. His ill-humour, or his hunger and thirst, in any year transformed the earth to a desert, and dealt death to thousands.
In countries where drouth, barrenness, and consequent 1 "The Nineteenth Century,' November 1877. Article : Sun-Spots and Famines,' by Norman Lockyer and W. W. Hunter.
3. An Inquiry into the Nature and Place of Hell,' by Tobias Swinden, M.A., iate Rector of Cuxton-in-Kent. 1727.
DEMON OF THE DESERT.
famine were occasional, as in India, it would be an inevitable result that they would represent the varying moods of a powerful will, and in such regions we naturally find the most extensive appliances for propitiation. The preponderant number of fat years would tell powerfully on the popular imagination in favour of priestly intercession, and the advantage of sacrifices to the great Hunger-demon who sometimes consumed the seeds of the earth. But in countries where barrenness was an ever-present, visible, unvarying fact, the Demon of the Desert would represent Necessity, a power not to be coaxed or changed. People dwelling in distant lands might invent theoretical myths to account for the desert. It might be an accident resulting from the Sun-god having given up his chariot one day to an inexperienced driver who came too close to the earth. But to those who lived beside the desert it could only seem an infernal realm, quite irrecoverable. The ancient civilisation of Egypt, so full of grandeur, might, in good part, have been due to the lesson taught them by the desert, that they could not change the conditions around them by any entreaties, but must make the best of what was left. If such, indeed, was the force that built the ancient civilisation whose monuments remain so magnificent in their ruins, its decay might be equally accounted for when that primitive faith passed into a theological phase. For as Necessity is the mother of invention, Fate is fatal to the same. Belief in facts, and laws fixed in the organic nature of things, stimulates man to study them and constitute his life with reference to them; but belief that things are fixed by the arbitrary decree of an individual power is the final sentence of enterprise. Fate might thus steadily bring to ruin the grandest achievements of Necessity.
Had we only the true history of the Sphinx — the
Binder—we might find it a landmark between the rise and decline of Egyptian civilisation. When the great Limitation surrounding the powers of man was first personified with that mystical grandeur, it would stand in the desert not as the riddle but its solution. No such monument was ever raised by Doubt. But once personified and outwardly shaped, the external Binder must bind thought as well; nay, will throttle thought if it cannot pierce through the stone and discover the meaning of it. “How true is that old fable of the Sphinx who sat by the wayside propounding her riddle to the passengers, which if they could not answer she destroyed them! Such a Sphinx is this Life of ours to all men and societies of men. Nature, like the Sphinx, is of womanly celestial loveliness and tenderness; the face and bosom of a goddess, but ending in claws and the body of a lioness. There is in her a celestial beauty,—which means celestial order, pliancy to wisdom; but there is also a darkness, a ferocity, fatality, which are infernal. She is a goddess, but one not yet disimprisoned ; one still half-imprisoned,—the articulate, lovely still encased in the inarticulate, chaotic. How true! And does she not propound her riddles to us? Of each man she asks daily, in mild voice, yet with a terrible significance, ‘Knowest thou the meaning of this Day? What thou canst do To-day, wisely attempt to do.' Nature, Universe, Destiny, Existence, howsoever we name this grand unnameable Fact, in the midst of which we live and struggle, is as a heavenly bride and conquest to the wise and brave, to them who can discern her behests and do them; a destroying fiend to them who cannot. Answer her riddle, it is well with thee. Answer it not, pass on regarding it not, it will answer itself; the solution for thee is a thing of teeth and claws; Nature to thee is a' dumb lioness, deaf to thy pleadings, fiercely devouring. Thou art not now her vic