Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
In delving into the remotely distant history of our species we cannot fail to be impressed with the persistence with which, throughout the whole of his career, man (of the species sapiens) has been seeking 4 for an elixir of life, to give added "vitality" to the dead (whose existence was not consciously regarded as ended), to prolong the days of active life to the living, to restore youth, and to protect his own life from all assaults, not merely of time, but also of circumstance. In other words, the elixir he sought was something that would bring "good luck" in all the events of his life and its continuation. Most of the amulets, even of modern times, the lucky trinkets, the averters of the "Evil Eye," the practices and devices for securing good luck in love and sport, in curing bodily ills or mental distress, in attaining material prosperity, or a continuation of existence after death, are survivals of this ancient and persistent striving after those objects which our earliest forefathers called collectively the "givers of life".
From statements in the earliest literature 5 that has come down to us from antiquity, no less than from the views that still prevail among
the relatively more primitive peoples of the present day, it is clear that originally man did not consciously formulate a belief in immortality.
It was rather the result of a defect of thinking, or as the modern psychologist would express it, an instinctive repression of the unpleasant idea that death would come to him personally, that primitive man refused to contemplate or to entertain the possibility of life coming to an end. So intense was his instinctive love of life and dread of such physical damage as would destroy his body that man unconsciously avoided thinking of the chance of his own death: hence his belief in the continuance of life cannot be regarded as the outcome of an active process of constructive thought.
This may seem altogether paradoxical and incredible.
How, it may be asked, can man be said to repress the idea of death, if he instinctively refused to admit its possibility? How did he escape the inevitable process of applying to himself the analogy he might have been supposed to make from other men's experience and recognize that he must die?
Man appreciated the fact that he could kill an animal or another man by inflicting certain physical injuries on him. But at first he seems to have believed that if he could avoid such direct assaults upon himself, his life would flow on unchecked, When death does occur and the onlookers recognize the reality, it is still the practice among certain relatively primitive people to search for the man who has inflicted death on his fellow.
It would, of course, be absurd to pretend that any people could fail to recognize the reality of death in the great majority of cases. The mere fact of burial is an indication of this. But the point of difference between the views of these early men and ourselves, was the tacit assumption on the part of the former, that in spite of the obvious changes in his body (which made inhumation or some other procedure necessary) the deceased was still continuing an existence not unlike that which he enjoyed previously, only somewhat duller, less eventful and more precarious. He still needed food and drink, as he did before, and all the paraphernalia of his mortal life, but he was dependent upon his relatives for the maintenance of his existence.
Such views were difficult of acceptance by a thoughtful people, once they appreciated the fact of the disintegration of the corpse in the grave; and in course of time it was regarded as essential for continued
existence that the body should be preserved. The idea developed, that so long as the body of the deceased was preserved and there were restored to it all the elements of vitality which it had lost at death, the continuance of existence was theoretically possible and worthy of acceptance as an article of faith.
Let us consider for a moment what were considered to be elements of vitality by the earliest members of our species. 1
From the remotest times man seems to have been aware of the fact that he could kill animals or his fellow men by means of certain physical injuries. He associated these results with the effusion of blood. The loss of blood could cause unconsciousness and death. Blood, therefore, must be the vehicle of consciousness and life, the material whose escape from the body could bring life to an end. 2
The first pictures painted by man, with which we are at present acquainted, are found upon the walls and roofs of certain caves in Southern France and Spain. They were the work of the earliest known representatives of our own species, Homo sapiens, in the phase of culture now distinguished by the name "Aurignacian".
The animals man was in the habit of hunting for food are depicted. 3 In some of them arrows are shown implanted in the animal's flank near the region of the heart; and in others the heart itself is represented.
This implies that at this distant time in the history of our species, it was already realized how vital a spot in the animal's anatomy the heart was, But even long before man began to speculate about the functions of the heart, he must have learned to associate the loss of blood on the part of man or animals with death, and to regard the pouring out of blood as the escape of its vitality. Many factors must have contributed to the new advance in physiology which made the heart the centre or the chief habitation of vitality, volition, feeling, and knowledge.
Not merely the empirical fact, acquired by experience in hunting, of the peculiarly vulnerable nature of the heart, but perhaps also the knowledge that the heart contained life-giving blood, helped in
developing the ideas about its functions as the bestower of life and consciousness.
The palpitation of the heart after severe exertion or under the influence of intense emotion would impress the early physiologist with the relationship of the heart to the feelings, and afford confirmation of his earlier ideas of its functions.
But whatever the explanation, it is known from the folk-lore of even the most unsophisticated peoples that the heart was originally regarded as the seat of life, feeling, volition, and knowledge, and that the blood was the life-stream. The Aurignacian pictures in the caves of Western Europe suggest that these beliefs were extremely ancient.
The evidence at our disposal seems to indicate that not only were such ideas of physiology current in Aurignacian times, but also certain cultural applications of them had been inaugurated even then. The remarkable method of blood-letting by chopping off part of a finger seems to have been practised even in Aurignacian times. 1
If it is legitimate to attempt to guess at the meaning these early people attached to so singular a procedure, we may be guided by the ideas associated with this act in outlying corners of the world at the present time. On these grounds we may surmise that the motive underlying this, and other later methods of blood-letting, such as circumcision, piercing the ears, lips, and tongue, gashing the limbs and body, et cetera, was the offering of the life-giving fluid.
Once it was recognized that the state of unconsciousness or death. was due to the loss of blood it was a not illogical or irrational procedure to imagine that offerings of blood might restore consciousness and life to the dead. 2 If the blood was seriously believed to be the vehicle of feeling and knowledge, the exchange of blood or the offering of blood to the community was a reasonable method for initiating anyone into the wider knowledge of and sympathy with his fellow-men.
Blood-letting, therefore, played a part in a great variety of ceremonies, of burial and of initiation, and also those of a therapeutic 3 and, later, of a religious significance.
But from Aurignacian times onwards, it seems to have been admitted that substitutes for blood might be endowed with a similar potency.
The extensive use of red ochre or other red materials for packing around the bodies of the dead was presumably inspired by the idea that materials simulating blood-stained earth, were endowed with the same life-giving properties as actual blood poured out upon the ground in similar vitalizing ceremonies.
As the shedding of blood produced unconsciousness, the offering of blood or red ochre was, therefore, a logical and practical means of restoring consciousness and reinforcing the element of vitality which was diminished or lost in the corpse.
The common statement that primitive man was a fantastically irrational child is based upon a fallacy. He was probably as well endowed mentally as his modern successors; and was as logical and rational as they are; but many of his premises were wrong, and he hadn't the necessary body of accumulated wisdom to help him to correct his false assumptions.
If primitive man regarded the dead as still existing, but with a reduced vitality, it was a not irrational procedure on the part of the people of the Reindeer Epoch in Europe to pack the dead in red ochre (which they regarded as a surrogate of the life-giving fluid) to make good the lack of vitality in the corpse.
If blood was the vehicle of consciousness and knowledge, the exchange of blood was clearly a logical procedure for establishing communion of thought and feeling and so enabling an initiate to assimilate the traditions of his people.
If red carnelian was a surrogate of blood the wearing of bracelets or necklaces of this life-giving material was a proper means of warding off danger to life and of securing good luck.
If red paint or the colour red brought these magical results, it was clearly justifiable to resort to its use.
All these procedures are logical. It is only the premises that were erroneous.
The persistence of such customs in Ancient Egypt makes it possible for us to obtain literary evidence to support the inferences drawn from archæological data of a more remote age. For instance, the red jasper amulet sometimes called the "girdle-tie of Isis," was supposed to represent
the blood of the goddess and was applied to the mummy "to stimulate the functions of his blood"; 1 or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it was intended to add to the vital substance, which was so obviously lacking in the corpse.
145:4 In response to the prompting of the most fundamental of all instincts, that of the preservation of life.
145:5 See Alan Gardiner, Journal of Egyptian Archæology, Vol. IV, Parts II-III, April-July, 1917, p. 205. Compare also the Babylonian story of Gilgamesh.
147:1 Some of these have been discussed in Chapter I ("Incense and Libations") and will not be further considered here.
147:2 "The life which is the blood thereof" (Gen. ix. 4).
147:3 See, for example, Sollas, "Ancient Hunters," 2nd Edition, 1915, pp. 326 (fig. 163), 333 (fig. 171), and 36 (fig. 189).
148:1 Sollas, op. cit., pp. 347 et seq.
148:2 The "redeeming blood," Φαρμακον ἀθανασίας.
148:3 The practice of blood-letting for therapeutic purposes was probably first suggested by a confused rationalization. The act of blood-letting was a means of healing; and the victim himself supplied the vitalizing fluid!