Moon Lore, by Timothy Harley, , at sacred-texts.com
It is almost time that we should leave this lunar zoology; we will therefore merely present a few creatures which may be of service in a comparative anatomy of the whole subject, and then close the account. There is a story told in the Fiji Islands which so nearly approaches the Hottentot legend of the hare, that they both seem but variations of a common original. In the one case the opponent of the moon's benevolent purpose affecting man's hereafter was a hare, in the other a rat. The story thus runs: There was "a contest between two gods
as to how man should die. Ra Vula (the moon) contended that man should be like himself--disappear awhile, and then live again. Ra Kalavo (the rat) would not listen to this kind proposal, but said, 'Let man die as a rat dies.' And he prevailed." 96 Mr. Tylor, who quotes this rat story, adds: "The dates of the versions seem to show that the presence of these myths among the Hottentots and Fijians, at the two opposite sides of the globe, is at any rate not due to transmission in modern times." 97
From the rat to one of its mortal enemies is an easy transition. The Australian story is that Mityan, the moon, was a native cat, who fell in love with another's wife, and while trying to induce her to run away with him, was discovered by the husband, when a fight took place. Mityan was beaten and ran away, and has been wandering ever since. 98 We are indebted for another suggestion to Bishop Wilkins, who wrote over two centuries ago: "As for the form of those spots, Albertus thinks that it represents a lion, with his tail towards the east, and his head the west; and some others have thought it to be very much like a fox, and certainly 'tis as much like a lion as that in the zodiac, or as ursa major is like a bear." 99 This last remark of the old mathematician is "a hit, a very palpable hit," at those unpoetical people who catalogue the constellations under all sorts of living creatures' names, implying resemblances, and then "sap with solemn sneer" our myths of the moon.
We have now seen that the moon is populated with men, women, and children,--hares and rabbits, toads and frogs, cats and dogs, and sundry small "cattle"; we observe in making our exit that it is also planted with a variety of trees; in short, is a zoological garden of a high order. Even among the ancients some said the lunar spots were forests where Diana hunted, and that the bright patches were plains. Captain Cook tells us that in the South Pacific "the spots observed in the moon are supposed to be groves of a sort of trees which once grew in Otaheite, and, being destroyed by some accident, their seeds were carried up thither by doves, where they now flourish." 100 Ellis also tells of these Tahitians that "their ideas of the moon, which they called avae or marama, were as fabulous as those they entertained of the sun. Some supposed the moon was the wife of the sun; others that it was a beautiful country in which the aoa grew." 101 These arborary fancies derive additional interest, if not a species of verisimilitude, from the record of a missionary that "a stately tree, clothed with dark shining leaves, and loaded with many hundreds of large green or yellowish-coloured fruit, is one of the most splendid and beautiful objects to be met with among the rich and diversified scenery of a Tahitian landscape."
Our collection of lunar legends is now on exhibition. No thoughtful person will be likely to dispute the dictum of Sir John Lubbock that[paragraph continues]
"traditions and myths are of great importance, and indirectly throw much light on the condition of man in ancient times." 102 But they serve far more purposes than this. They are the raw material, out of which many of our goodly garments of modern science and religion are made up. The illiterate negroes on the cotton plantation, and the rude hunters in the jungle or seal fishery, produce the staple, or procure the skins, which after long labour afford comfort and adornment to proud philosophers and peers. The golden cross on the saintly bosom and the glittering crown on the sovereign brow were embedded as rough ore in primeval rocks ages before their wearers were born to boast of them. We shall esteem our treasures none the less because their origin is known, as we love "the Best of men" none the less because he was born of a woman. We closed our series of moon myths with a vision of a beautiful country, ornamented with groves of fruitful trees, whose seeds had been carried thither by white-winged doves; and carried thither because "some accident" had destroyed the trees in their native isles on earth. Thus the lunar world had become a desirable scene of superior and surpassing loveliness. Who can reflect upon this dream of human childhood, and not recall some dreams of later years? Who can fail to discern slight touches of the same hand which we see displayed in other designs? "Happily for historic truth," says Mr. Tylor, "mythic tradition tells its tales without expurgating the
episodes which betray its real character to more critical observation." 103 Who is not led on from Tahiti to Greece, and to the Isles of the Blessed, the Elysium which abounds in every charm of life, and to the garden of the Hesperides, with its apples of gold; thence to the Meru of the Hindoos, the sacred mountain which is perpetually clothed in the rays of the sun, and adorned with every variety of plants and trees; thence again to the Heden of the Persians, of matchless beauty, where ever flourishes the tree Hom with its wonderful fruit; on to the Chinese garden, near the gate of heaven, whose noblest spring is the fountain of life, and whose delightful trees bear fruits which preserve and prolong the existence of man? 104 Thence an easy entrance is gained to the Hebrew Paradise, with its abounding trees "pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden"; and finally arises a sight of the "better land" of the Christian poetess, the incorruptible and undefiled inheritance of the Christian preacher, the prospect which is "ever vernal and blooming,--and, best of all, amid those trees of life there lurks no serpent to destroy,--the country, through whose vast region we shall traverse with untired footsteps, while every fresh revelation of beauty will augment our knowledge, and holiness, and joy." 105 Who will travel on such a pilgrimage of enlarged thought, and not come to the conclusion that if one course of development has been followed by all scientific and spiritual truth, then[paragraph continues]
"almost the whole of the mythology and theology of civilized nations maybe traced, without arrangement or co-ordination, and in forms that are undeveloped and original rather than degenerate, in the traditions and ideas of savages"? 106 Such a conclusion may diminish our self-esteem, if we have supposed ourselves the sole depositaries of Divine knowledge; but it will exalt our conception of the generosity of the Father of all men, who never left a human soul without a witness of His invisible presence and ineffable love.