Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
In these pages I have ranged over a very wide field of speculation, groping in the dim shadows of the early history of civilization. I have been attempting to pick up a few of the threads which ultimately became woven into the texture of human beliefs and aspirations, and to suggest that the practice of mummification was the woof around which the web of civilization was intimately intertwined.
I have already explained how closely that practice was related to the origin and development of architecture, which Professor Lethaby has called the "matrix of civilization," and how nearly the ideas that grew up in explanation and in justification of the ritual of embalming were affected by the practice of agriculture, the second great pillar of support for the edifice of civilization. It has also been shown how far-reaching was the influence exerted by the needs of the embalmer, which impelled men, probably for the first time in history, to plan and carry out great expeditions by sea and land to obtain the necessary resins and the balsams, the wood and the spices. Incidentally also in course of time the practice of mummification came to exert a profound effect upon the means for the acquisition of a knowledge of medicine and all the sciences ancillary to it.
But I have devoted chief attention to the bearing of the ideas which developed out of the practice and ritual of embalming upon the spirit of man. It gave shape and substance to the belief in a future life; it was perhaps the most important factor in the development of a definite conception of the gods: it laid the foundation of the ideas which subsequently were built up into a theory of the soul: in fact, it was intimately connected with the birth of all those ideals and aspirations which are now included in the conception of religious belief and ritual. A multitude of other trains of thought were started amidst the intellectual ferment of the formulation of the earliest concrete system of biological theory. The idea of the properties and functions of water which had previously sprung up in connexion with the development of agriculture became crystallized into a more definite form as the result of the development of mummification, and this has played an obtrusive part in religion, in philosophy and in medicine ever since. Moreover its influence has become embalmed for all time in many languages and in the ritual of every religion.
But it was a factor in the development not merely of religious beliefs, temples and ritual, but it was also very closely related to the origin of much of the paraphernalia of the gods and of current popular beliefs. The swastika and the thunderbolt, dragons and demons, totemism and the sky-world are all of them conceptions that were more or less closely connected with the matters I have been discussing.
The ideas which grew up in association with the practice of mummification were responsible for the development of the temple and its ritual and for a definite formulation of the conception of deities. But they were also responsible for originating a priesthood. For the resuscitation of the dead king, Osiris, and for the maintenance of his existence it was necessary for his successor, the reigning king, to perform the ritual of animation and the provision of food and drink. The king, therefore, was the first priest, and his functions were not primarily acts of worship but merely the necessary preliminaries for restoring life and consciousness to the dead seer so that he could consult him and secure his advice and help.
It was only when the number of temples became so great and their ritual so complex and elaborate as to make it a physical impossibility for the king to act in this capacity in all of them and on every occasion that he was compelled to delegate some of his priestly functions to others, either members of the royal family or high officials. In course of time certain individuals devoted themselves exclusively to these duties and became professional priests; but it is important to remember that at first it was the exclusive privilege of Horus, the reigning king, to intercede with Osiris, the dead king, on behalf of men, and that the earliest priesthood consisted of those individuals to whom he had delegated some of these duties.
In conclusion I should like to express in words what must be only too apparent to every reader of this statement. It claims to be nothing more than a contribution to the study of some of the most difficult problems in the history of human thought. For one so ill-equipped for a task of such a nature as I am to attempt it calls for a word of explanation. The clear light that recent research has shed upon the earliest literature in the world has done much to destroy the foundations upon which the theories propounded by scholars have been built up. It seemed to be worth while to attempt to read afresh the voluminous
mass of old documents with the illumination of this new information.
The other reason for making such an attempt is that almost every modern scholar who has discussed the matters at issue has assumed that the fashionable doctrine of the independent development of human beliefs and practices was a safe basis upon which to construct his theories. At best it is an unproven and reckless speculation. I am convinced it is utterly false. Holding such views I have attempted to read the evidence afresh.