Page images

The legendary Laguna de los Xarayes was indicated on the early maps of South America as lying at the sources of the Paraguay. In it was the splendid island home of El Gran Moxo. The imagery of the Hebrew prophets was borrowed to describe his palace with its golden and silvern vessels, its doors of bronze where living lions in chains of gold kept guard, its cloud-like tower where a disk of silver, in shape like the moon, shed light over the waters.

Explorers sought this island magnificence in vain. When they came in the dry season, they could not find even the lake in which it swam, for what seemed to be a vast lagoon was merely high water on the Paraguay.

One of the golden visions of Spain recoiled upon its head. The Spaniards would not have it that with a single blow they had struck down the power of the Incas and laid hold of all their riches. It seemed to them they had merely precipitated a dispersal and an exodus—the going out of Indian princes and property to found new seats elsewhere. One of these was the great city of Paytiti, also called the White House, which had risen near the confluence of the Huallaga and Marañon in the forests of Peru. The legend which the conqueror propagated of a fugitive dynasty grown strong in exile was cherished by the humbled Quichuas, and twice it roused them to arms.

In 1740 Juan Santos assumed the name of Atahuallpa, raised an army from the uncivilized members of various tribes, drove out the missionaries, and for a space made the name and power of Paytiti a fact on the borders of Peru. Again, in 1780, TupacAmaru, a descendant of the Incas, appealed to the legend, aroused the country, abolished enforced mine service and ecclesiastical dues, and became master of most of the Peruvian plateau. The insurrection was put down and its leader executed, but the injustices he had fought were never restored in full vigor, and passed altogether when Peru rose against Spain in the War of Independence. The dream of Paytiti had become a vision of liberation.

Chapter XXIII. The Fabric of Illusion

The traditional world, like the modern world, is a fabric woven of many stuffs and colors, and patched with strange materials, some old, some almost new. If one wonders how it was all thrown together, one must consider that the type of mind which collects and analyzes facts, which experiments in order to discard error, which defines terms and reasons from them, did not appear until late in the world's history and even now is not common. Aristotle, the chief scientist of antiquity, debated why a dead kingfisher, suspended from a string, should foretell the direction of the winds by turning its bill toward that corner of the heavens whence they were to come. Sir Thomas Browne hung a kingfisher on a string, and found that it did not do this thing.

Except when directed to its immediate problems of food and shelter, the antique mind thought in images, rather than in def. inite terms. Its processes were akin to dreams, in which one takes strange things for granted, nor seeks to verify anything. Save when they drove a bargain, men took one another's statements for granted. Much the same thing is true of the savage to-day.

The realms and races of prodigy form the main burden of travel tale. Except when travels took the form of commercial voyagings, or military expeditions, and with a few other exceptions, such as the journeys of Pytheas the Massilian and Marco the Venetian, their theme, almost until modern times, was wonder. Home-keeping folks wanted to hear, as still they do, of countries and customs, and men and animals, that were different. The myths of geography have come out of the contacts of the dreaming mind of savagery and early civilization with the unknown. They represent men in the process of getting acquainted with the world about them.

For primitive man they began at the very boundary of his district. Mystery was there, and forbidding things were suspected; and if waste lands lay beyond, these got themselves uncouth populations. The stranger that crossed the boundary was dreaded and hated as something not quite human, or at least as wielder of a magic that might work harm. It is said of wild tribesmen in Borneo that when they meet a stranger they turn their backs and hide their faces because the sight of him makes them dizzy. “The stranger is for the wolf,” is an Arab saying, and the early rule of the world was that he must die in the interest of those upon whom he had thrust himself. “He had salt water in his eyes," was the Fiji formula when castaways were clubbed to death. Many tribes call themselves by names which mean simply “men,” as distinguished from all other peoples, whose human nature is not conceded.

But the cruel host of to-day might be the helpless guest of to

morrow. There came a time of toleration, the limited toleration recorded in the Slavic proverb, “A guest and a fish smell on the third day.” As men crossed and recrossed the tribal boundary its weird legends were shifted to remoter horizons, became things to gossip about rather than act upon, and might mellow into genial report. Even historical peoples living at a distance were swathed in horizon haze. The justice of the Indians, their freedom from bodily ailments, and their contempt of death are favorite themes of Ctesias. Herodotus spoke of the Egyptians as later ages have spoken of the Chinese. Adam of Bremen gave a fantastic picture of the peoples of the far north-small, sinister Finns, whose magic could wreck passing ships and draw the very fish out of the sea; cruel islanders col. ored bluish green by salt water, and the “most noble” Northmen, bravest, most loyal, most temperate of men. Above all other races in consideration, so the west agreed for some centuries of unwonted humility, were the Chinese. Among them, says Purchas, “is reported to be neither Thiefe nor Whore, nor Murtherer, nor Hailes, nor Pestilence, nor such like Plagues.” And they live to be two hundred years old.

Travelers were the agents of distance, bringing the woof which the stay-at-home worked into the warp of his fancy. Until very recent times they were the world's telegraph, mails and newspapers, all in one. Their coming was an event, and their going was remarked upon. Over rough ways, through countries where inns were not, among peoples who had instinctive dislike of a stranger and deemed it no fault to despoil or enslave him, the wanderer pursued his uncertain fates as merchant, pilgrim or mendicant. He paid his fare by the stories he took with him—winning a precarious hospitality in strange lands and an eager welcome when he reached home. The more curious the tale he told, the more kindly he was entreated—Ulysses repaid royal hospitality with royal guerdon—and in the ancient world so little was known that one might tell almost any tale he pleased. There was no means of checking up a report. Of course there were skeptics here and there, and there was, and is, a suspicion that old men and wanderers use rather more than the truth. The Ancient Mariner, being both old and traveled, had a great tale to tell.

Whole races wandered as well as single individuals. The migrations of peoples, and most if not all of them have had a nomad period, have had something to do with bringing the more beautiful of their legends into being—the tales of ideal lands, abodes of the blest where their dead are, or whither their heroes are translated without dying. The journeys of the sun are tracked upon them and human wistfulness has builded there, but so has memory. The homeland which the ancestors of a people abandoned long before, driven out, it may be, by an invading host, lives in its legends as a region desirable above all others. The hardships of the exodus are remembered also, and tradition magnifies the cruel height of the mountains, the swiftness of deep, unfordable rivers, the terror of moonless trails and all the heavinesses of the way. When the dead go home, or the heroes pass to rest, the path of souls which they travel back is the path their forefathers followed and the one journey ends where the other began, in a land that is a province of the Golden Age.

This hypothesis, which is Herbert Spencer’s, may not explain all the elysiums that a yearning fancy has created. Yet in the South Seas they lie in the direction whence the islanders came; the Hindu legend of the blissful Uttarakarus of the north is thought to hold the memory of a migration southward from some Himalayan valley; while the curious Persian legend of the enclosed garden of Yima, where was neither deformity nor iniquity, may be a note on the early movement of the Iranians from their cold ancestral home to the Azerbaijan region, and a halt there before renewing their march toward the sun and the


Though seldom we may follow the process, religion, and symbolism, which is its handmaiden, and magic, which is its elder brother, traced the outlines of most of the fabulous animals and peculiar peoples; human forgetfulness, savage logic and hearsay have filled them in. The natural history of the traditional world was in good part the contribution of the religions of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, and India. The tribes of grotesque peoples, the dog.faced generations, the satyrs, the demons of the waste, the fowls with woman faces, the women with fishtails, the winged quadrupeds, all seem more like the carven creatures which populate the walls and towers of mediæval cathedrals than breathing tenants of fields and waters. The seeming is significant. When the hunchback, Quasimodo, was on the roof of Notre Dame at night, “then said the women of the neighborhood, the whole church took on something fantastic, supernatural, horrible; eyes and mouths were opened here and there; one heard the dogs, the monsters, and the gargoyles of stone, which keep watch night and day, with outstretched necks and open jaws, around the monstrous cathedral, barking.' When the edifice took fire, continues Hugo, “there were griffins which had the air of laughing, gargoyles which one fancied one heard yelping, salamanders which puffed at the fire, tarasques which sneezed in the smoke."

In the temples of the Middle Ages the fabulous birds of the traditional world came home to their roosts, and the fabulous animals to their dens. They had been taken from the temples of earlier religions and they found their way back through the medium of an art which did not know where these creatures came from. Nor did ancient travelers and geographers. These, they supposed, were real races of men, real beasts and birds. They had never seen them, for they roamed the outer spaces, but everywhere they saw their effigies—in the porches of palaces, upon the columns of imperial courts, and on the monuments of princes, as well as within the shrines of strange gods.

« PreviousContinue »