And yet all of these religions--these "sacred books," these priests, have been naturally produced. From the dens and caves of savagery to the palaces of civilization men have traveled by the necessary paths and roads. Back of every step has been the efficient cause. In the history of the world there has been no chance, no interference from without, nothing miraculous. Everything in accordance with and produced by the facts in nature.
We need not blame the hypocritical and cruel. They thought and acted as they were compelled to think and act.
In all ages man has tried to account for himself and his surroundings. He did the best he could. He wondered why the water ran, why the trees grew, why the clouds floated, why the stars shone, why the sun and moon journeyed through the heavens. He was troubled about life and death, about darkness and dreams. The seas, the volcanoes, the lightning and thunder, the earthquake and cyclone, filled him with fear. Behind all life and growth and motion, and even inanimate things, he placed a spirit--an intelligent being--a fetich, person, something like himself--a god, controlled by love and hate. To him causes and effects became gods--supernatural beings. The Dawn was a maiden, wondrously fair, the Sun, a warrior and lover; the Night, a serpent, a wolf--the Wind, a musician; Winter, a wild beast; Autumn, Proserpine gathering flowers.
Poets were the makers of these myths. They were the first to account for what they saw and felt. The great multitude mistook these fancies for facts. Myths strangely alike, were produced by most nations, and gradually took possession of the world.
The Sleeping Beauty, a myth of the year, has been found among most peoples. In this myth, the Earth was a maiden--the Sun was her lover. She had fallen asleep in winter. Her blood was still and her breath had gone. In the Spring the lover came, clasped her in his arms, covered her lips and cheeks with kisses. She was thrilled, her heart began to beat, she breathed, her blood flowed, and she awoke to love and joy. This myth has made the circuit of the globe.
So, Red Riding-Hood is the history of a day. Little Red Riding-Hood--the morning, touched with red, goes to visit her kindred, a day that is past. She is attacked by the wolf of night and is rescued by the hunter, Apollo, who pierces the heart of the beast with an arrow of light.
The beautiful myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is the story of the year. Eurydice has been captured and carried to the infernal world. Orpheus, playing upon his harp, goes after her. Such is the effect of his music when he reaches the realm of Pluto, the laughterless, that Tantalus ceases his efforts to slake his thirst. He listens and forgets his withered lips, the daughters of the Danaides cease their vain efforts to fill the sieve with water, Sisyphus sits down on the stone that he so often had heaved against the mountain's misty side, Ixion pauses upon his wheel of fire, even Pluto smiles, and for the first time in the history of hell the cheeks of the Furies are wet with tears.
"Give me back Eurydice," cried Orpheus, and Pluto said: "Take her, but look not back." Orpheus led the way and Eurydice followed. Just as he reached the upper world, he missed her footsteps, turned, looked, and she vanished.
And thus the summer comes, is lost, and comes again through all the years.
So, our ancestors believed in the Garden of Eden, in the Golden Age, in the blessed time when all were good and pure--when nature satisfied the wants of all. The race, like the old man, has golden dreams of youth. The morning was filled with light and life and joy, and the evening is always sad. When the old man was young, girls were beautiful and men were honest. He remembers his Eden. And so the whole world has had its age of gold.
Our fathers were believers in the Elysian Fields. They were in the far, far West. They saw them at the setting of the sun. They saw the floating isles of gold in sapphire seas; the templed mist with spires and domes of emerald and amethyst: the magic caverns of the clouds, resplendent with the rays of every gem. And as they looked, they thought the curtain had been drawn aside and that their eyes had for a moment feasted on the glories of another world.
The myth of the Flood has also been universal. Finding shells of the seas on plain and mountain, and everywhere some traces of the waves, they thought the world had been submerged--that God in wrath had drowned the race, except a few his mercy saved.
The Hindus say that Menu, a holy man, dipped from the Ganges some water, and in the basin saw a little fish. The fish begged him to throw him back into the river, and Menu, having pity, cast him back. The fish then told Menu that there was to be a flood--told him to build an ark, to take on board, people, animals and food, and that when the flood came, he, the fish, would save him. The saint did as he was told, the flood came, the fish returned. By that time he had grown to be a whale with a horn in his head. About this horn Menu fastened a rope, attached the other end to the ark, and the fish towed the boat across the raging waves to a mountain's top, where it rested until the waters subsided. The name of this wonderful fish was Matsaya.
Many other nations told similar stories of floods and arks and the sending forth of doves.
In all these myths and legends of the past we find philosophies and dreams and efforts, stained with tears, of great and tender souls who tried to pierce the mysteries of life and death, to answer the questions of the whence and whither, and who vainly sought with bits of shattered glass to make a mirror that would in very truth reflect the face and form of Nature's perfect self. These myths were born of hopes and fears, of tears and smiles, and they were touched and colored by all there is of joy and grief between the rosy dawn of birth and deaths sad night. They clothed even the stars with passion, and gave to gods the faults and frailties of the sons of men. In them the winds and waves were music, and all the springs, the mountains, woods and perfumed dells were haunted by a thousand fairy forms. They thrilled the veins of Spring with tremulous desire, made tawny Summer's billowy breast the throne and home of love, filled Autumn's arms with sun-kissed grapes and gathered sheaves, and pictured Winter as a weak old king, who felt, like Lear, upon his withered face, Cordelia's tears.
These myths, though false in fact, are beautiful and true in thought, and have for many ages and in countless ways enriched the heart and kindled thought.