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Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, [1919], at


In the early centuries of the Christian era, and probably also even for two or three hundred years earlier still, the leaven of the ancient civilizations of the Old World was at work in Mexico, Central America and Peru. The most obtrusive influences that were brought to bear, especially in the area from Yucatan to Mexico, were inspired by the Cambodian and Indonesian modifications of Indian beliefs and practices. The god who was most often depicted upon the ancient Maya and Aztec codices was the Indian rain-god Indra, who in America was provided with the head of the Indian elephant 1 (i.e. seems to have been confused with the Indian Ganesa) and given other attributes more suggestive of the Dravidian Nâga than his enemy, the Aryan deity. In other words the character of the American god, known as Chac by the Maya people and as Tlaloc by the Aztecs, is an interesting illustration of the effects of such a mixture of cultures as Dr. Rivers has studied in Melanesia. 2 Not only does the elephant-headed god in America represent a blend of the two great Indian rain-gods which in the Old World are mortal enemies, the one of the other (partly for

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the political reason that the Dravidians and Aryans were rival and hostile peoples), but all the traits of each deity, even those depicting the old Aryan conception of their deadly combat, are reproduced in America under circumstances which reveal an ignorance on the part of the artists of the significance of the paradoxical contradictions they are representing. But even many incidents in the early history of the Vedic gods, which were due to arbitrary circumstances in the growth of the legends, reappear in America. To cite one instance (out of scores which might be quoted), in the Vedic story Indra assumed many of the attributes of the god Soma. In America the name of the god of rain and thunder, the Mexican Indra, is Tlaloc, which is generally translated "pulque of the earth," from tlal[l]i, "earth," and oc[tli], "pulque, a fermented drink (like the Indian drink soma) made from the juice of the agave". 1

The so-called "long-nosed god" (the elephant-headed rain-god) has been given the non-committal designation "god B," by Schellhas. 2

I reproduce here a remarkable drawing (Fig. 11) from the Codex Troano, in which this god, whom the Maya people called Chac, is shown pouring the rain out of a water-jar (just as the deities of Babylonia and India are often represented), and putting his foot upon the head of a serpent, who is preventing the rain from reaching the earth. Here we find depicted with childlike simplicity and directness the Vedic conception of Indra overcoming the demon Vritra. Stempell describes this scene as "the elephant-headed god B standing upon the head of a serpent"; 3 while Seler, who claims that god B is a tortoise, explains it as the serpent forming a footstool for the rain-god. 4 In the

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[paragraph continues] Codex Cortes the same theme is depicted in another way, which is truer to the Indian conception of Vritra, as "the restrainer" 1 (Fig. 12).

The serpent (the American rattlesnake) restrains the water by coiling itself into a sac to hold up the rain and so prevent it from reaching the earth. In the various American codices this episode is depicted in as great a variety of forms as the Vedic poets of India described when they sang of the exploits of Indra. The Maya Chac is, in fact, Indra transferred to the other side of the Pacific and there only thinly disguised by a veneer of American stylistic design.

But the Aztec god Tlaloc is merely the Chac of the Maya people transferred to Mexico. Schellhas declares that the "god B," the "most common figure in the codices," is a "universal deity to whom the most varied elements, natural phenomena, and activities are subject". "Many authorities consider God B to represent Kukulkan, the Feathered Serpent, whose Aztec equivalent is Quetzalcoatl. Others identify him with Itzamna, the Serpent God of the East, or with Chac, the Rain God of the four quarters and the equivalent of Tlaloc of the Mexicans." 2

From the point of view of its Indian analogies these confusions are peculiarly significant, for the same phenomena are found in India. The snake and the dragon can be either the rain-god of the East or the enemy of the rain-god; either the dragon-slayer or the evil dragon who has to be slain. The Indian word Nâga, which is applied to the beneficent god or king identified with the cobra, can also mean "elephant," and this double significance probably played a part in the confusion of the deities in America.

In the Dresden Codex the elephant-headed god is represented in one place grasping a serpent, in another issuing from a serpent's mouth, and again as an actual serpent (Fig. 13). Turning next to the attributes of these American gods we find that they reproduce with amazing precision those of Indra. Not only were they the divinities who controlled rain, thunder, lightning, and vegetation, but they also carried axes and thunderbolts (Fig. 13) like their homologues in the Old World. Like Indra, Tlaloc was intimately associated with the East and with the tops of mountains, where he had a special heaven, reserved for

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warriors who fell in battle and women who died in childbirth. As a water-god also he presided over the souls of the drowned and those who in life suffered from dropsical affections. Indra also specialized in the same branch of medicine.

In fact, if one compares the account of Tlaloc's attributes and achievements, such as is given in Mr. Joyce's "Mexican Archæology" or Professor Seler's monograph on the "Codex Vaticanus," with Professor Hopkins's summary of Indra's character ("Religions of India") the identity is so exact, even in the most arbitrary traits and confusions with other deities’ peculiarities, that it becomes impossible for any serious investigator to refuse to admit that Tlaloc and Chac are merely American forms of Indra. Even so fantastic a practice as the representation of the American rain-god's face as composed of contorted snakes 1 finds its analogy in Siam, where in relatively recent times this curious device was still being used by artists. 2

"As the god of fertility maize belonged to him [Tlaloc], though not altogether by right, for according to one legend he stole it after it had been discovered by other gods concealed in the heart of a mountain." 3 Indra also obtained soma from the mountain by similar means. 4

In the ancient civilization of America one of the most prominent deities was called the "Feathered Serpent," in the Maya language, Kukulkan, Quiche Gukumatz, Aztec Quetzalcoatl, the Pueblo "Mother of Waters". Throughout a very extensive part of America the snake, like the Indian Nâga, is the emblem of rain, clouds, thunder and lightning. But it is essentially and pre-eminently the symbol of rain; and the god who controls the rain, Chac of the Mayas, Tlaloc of the Aztecs, carried the axe and the thunderbolt like his homologues and prototypes in the Old World. In America also we find reproduced in full, not only the legends of the antagonism between the

Fig. 13. A photographic reproduction of the 36th page of the Dresden Maya Codex.

Of the three pictures in the top row one represents the elephant-headed god Chac with a snake's body. He is pouring out rain. The central picture represents the lightning animal carrying fire down from heaven to earth. On the right Chac is shown in human guise carrying thunderweapons in the form of burning torches.

In the second row a goddess sits in the rain: her head is prolonged into that of a bird, holding a fish in its beak. The central picture shows Chac in his boat ferrying a woman across the water from the East. The third illustration depicts the familiar conflict between the vulture and serpent.

In the third row Chac is seen with his axe: in the central picture he is standing in the water looking up towards a rain-cloud; and on the right he is shown sitting in a hut resting from his labours.

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thunder-bird and the serpent, but also the identification of these two rivals in one composite monster, which, as I have already mentioned, is seen in the winged disks, both in the Old World and the New. 1 Hardly any incident in the history of the Egyptian falcon or the thunder-birds of Babylonia, Greece or India, fails to reappear in America and find pictorial expression in the Maya and Aztec codices.

What makes America such a rich storehouse of historical data is the fact that it is stretched across the world almost from pole to pole; and for many centuries the jetsam and flotsam swept on to this vast strand has made it a museum of the cultural history of the Old World, much of which would have been lost for ever if America had not saved it. But a record preserved in this manner is necessarily in a highly confused state. For essentially the same materials reached America in manifold forms. The original immigrants into America brought from North-Eastern Asia such cultural equipment as had reached the area east of the Yenesei at the time when Europe was in the Neolithic phase of culture. Then when ancient mariners began to coast along the Eastern Asiatic littoral and make their way to America by the Aleutian route there was a further infiltration of new ideas. But when more venturesome sailors began to navigate the open seas and exploit Polynesia, for centuries 2 there was a more or less constant influx of customs and beliefs, which were drawn from Egypt and Babylonia, from the Mediterranean and East Africa, from India and Indonesia, China and Japan, Cambodia and Oceania. One and the same fundamental idea, such as the attributes of the serpent as a water-god, reached America in an infinite variety of guises, Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese, and from this amazing jumble of confusion the local priesthood of Central America built up a system of beliefs which is distinctively American, though most of the ingredients and the principles of synthetic composition were borrowed from the Old World.

Every possible phase of the early history of the dragon-story and all the ingredients which in the Old World went to the making

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of it have been preserved in American pictures and legends in a bewildering variety of forms and with an amazing luxuriance of complicated symbolism and picturesque ingenuity. In America, as in India and Eastern Asia, the power controlling water was identified both with a serpent (which in the New World, as in the Old, was often equipped with such inappropriate and arbitrary appendages, as wings, horns and crests) and a god, who was either associated or confused with an elephant. Now many of the attributes of these gods, as personifications of the life-giving powers of water, are identical with those of the Babylonian god Ea and the Egyptian Osiris, and their reputations as warriors with the respective sons and representatives, Marduk and Horus. The composite animal of Ea-Marduk, the "sea-goat" (the Capricornus of the Zodiac), was also the vehicle of Varuna in India, whose relationship to Indra was in some respects analogous to that of Ea to Marduk in Babylonia. 1 The Indian "sea-goat" or Makara was in fact intimately associated both with Varuna and with Indra. This monster assumed a great variety of forms, such as the crocodile, the dolphin, the sea-serpent or dragon, or combinations of the heads of different animals with a fish's body (Fig. 14). Amongst these we find an elephant-headed form of the makara, which was adopted as far east as Indonesia and as far west as Scotland.

I have already called attention 2 to the part played by the makara in determining the development of the form of the elephant-headed god in America. Another form of the makara is described in the following American legend, which is interesting also as a mutilated version of the original dragon-story of the Old World.

In 1912 Hernández translated and published a Maya manuscript 3 which had been written out in Spanish characters in the early days

Fig. 14.

A. The so-called "sea-goat" of Babylonia, a creature compounded of the antelope and fish of Ea.

B. The "sea-goat" as the vehicle of Ea or Marduk.

C to K—a series of varieties of the makara from the Buddhist Rails at Buddha Gaya and Mathura, circa 70 B.C.–70 A.D., after Cunningham ("Archæological Survey of India," Vol. III, 1873, Plates IX and XXIX).

L. The makara as the vehicle of Varuna, after Sir George Birdwood. It is not difficult to understand how, in the course of the easterly diffusion of culture, such a picture should develop into the Chinese Dragon or the American Elephant-headed God.

FIG. 14
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FIG. 14

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of the conquest of the Americas, but had been overlooked until six years ago. It is an account of the creation, and includes the following passages: "All at once came the water [? rain] after the dragon was carried away. The heaven was broken up; it fell upon the earth; and they say that Cantul-ti-ku (four gods), the four Baccab, were those who destroyed it. … 'The whole world,' said Ah-uuc-chek-nale (he who seven times makes fruitful), 'proceeded from the seven bosoms of the earth.' And he descended to make fruitful Itzam-kab-ain (the female whale with alligator-feet), when he came down from the central angle of the heavenly region" (p. 171).

Hernandez adds that "the old fishermen of Yucatan still call the whale Itzam: this explains the name of Itzaes, by which the Mayas were known before the founding of Mayapan".

The close analogy to the Indra-story is suggested by the phrase describing the coming of the water "after the dragon was carried away". Moreover, the Indian sea-elephant makara, which was confused in the Old World with the dolphin of Aphrodite, and was sometimes also regarded as a crocodile, naturally suggests that the "female whale with the alligator-feet" was only an American version of the old Indian legend.

All this serves, not only to corroborate the inferences drawn from the other sources of information which I have already indicated, but also to suggest that, in addition to borrowing the chief divinities of their pantheon from India, the Maya people's original name was derived from the same mythology. 1

It is of considerable interest and importance to note that in the earliest dated example of Maya workmanship (from Tuxtla, in the Vera Cruz State of Mexico), for which Spinden assigns a tentative date of 235 B.C., an unmistakable elephant figures among the four hieroglyphs which Spinden reproduces (op. cit., p. 171). A similar hieroglyphic sign is found in the Chinese records of the Early Chow Dynasty (John Ross, "The Origin of the Chinese People," 1916, p. 152).

The use of the numerals four and seven in the narrative translated

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by Hernandez, as in so many other American documents, is itself, as Mrs. Zelia Nuttall has so conclusively demonstrated, 1 a most striking and conclusive demonstration of the link with the Old World.

Indra was not the only Indian god who was transferred to America, for all the associated deities, with the characteristic stories of their exploits, 2 are also found depicted with childlike directness of incident, but amazingly luxuriant artistic phantasy, in the Maya and Aztec codices.

We find scattered throughout the islands of the Pacific the familiar stories of the dragon. One mentioned by the Bishop of Wellington refers to a New Zealand dragon with jaws like a crocodile's, which spouted water like a whale. It lived in a fresh-water lake. 3 In the same number of the same Journal Sir George Grey gives extracts from a Maori legend of the dragon, which he compares with corresponding passages from Spenser's "Faery Queen". "Their strict verbal and poetical conformity with the New Zealand legends are such as at first to lead to the impression either that Spenser must have stolen his images and language from the New Zealand poets, or that they must have acted unfairly by the English bard" (p. 362). The Maori legend describes the dragon as "in size large as a monstrous whale, in shape like a hideous lizard; for in its huge head, its limbs, its tail, its scales, its tough skin, its sharp spines, yes, in all these it resembled a lizard" (p. 364).

Now the attributes of the Chinese and Japanese dragon as the controller of rain, thunder and lightning are identical with those of the American elephant-headed god. It also is associated with the East and with the tops of mountains. It is identified with the Indian Nâga, but the conflict involved in this identification is less obtrusive than it is either in America or in India. In Dravidian India the rulers and the gods are identified with the serpent: but among the Aryans, who were hostile to the Dravidians, the rain-god is the enemy of the Nâga. In America the confusion becomes more pronounced because Tlaloc (Chac) represents both Indra and his enemy the serpent. The representation in the codices of his conflict with the serpent is merely a tradition

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which the Maya and Aztec scribes followed, apparently without understanding its meaning.

In China and Japan the Indra-episode plays a much less prominent part, for the dragon is, like the Indian Nâga, a beneficent creature, which approximates more nearly to the Babylonian Ea or the Egyptian Osiris. It is not only the controller of water, but the impersonation of water and its life-giving powers: it is identified with the emperor, with his standard, with the sky, and with all the powers that give, maintain, and prolong life and guard against all kinds of danger to life. In other words, it is the bringer of good luck, the rejuvenator of mankind, the giver of immortality.

But if the physiological functions of the dragon of the Far East can thus be assimilated to those of the Indian Nâga and the Babylonian and Egyptian Water God, who is also the king, anatomically he is usually represented in a form which can only be regarded as the Babylonian composite monster, as a rule stripped of his wings, though not of his avian feet.

In America we find preserved in the legends of the Indians an accurate and unmistakable description of the Japanese dragon (which is mainly Chinese in origin). Even Spinden, who "does not care to dignify by refutation the numerous empty theories of ethnic connections between Central America" [and in fact America as a whole] "and the Old World," makes the following statement (in the course of a discussion of the myths relating to horned snakes in California): "a similar monster, possessing antlers, and sometimes wings, is also very common in Algonkin and Iroquois legends, although rare in art. As a rule the horned serpent is a water spirit and an enemy of the thunder bird. Among the Pueblo Indians the horned snake seems to have considerable prestige in religious belief. … It lives in the water or in the sky and is connected with rain or lightning." 1

Thus we find stories of a dragon equipped with those distinctive tokens of Chinese origin, the deer's antlers; and along with it a snake with less specialized horns suggesting the Cerastes of Egypt and Babylonia. A horned viper distantly akin to the Cerastes of the Old World does occur in California; but its "horns" are so insignificant as to make it highly improbable that they could have been in any way responsible for the obtrusive role played by horns in these widespread

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[paragraph continues] American stories. But the proof of the foreign origin of these stories is established by the horned serpent's achievements.

It "lives in the water or the sky" like its homologue in the Old World, and it is "a water spirit". Now neither the Cobra nor the Cerastes is actually a water serpent. Their achievements in the myths therefore have no possible relationship with the natural habits of the real snakes. They are purely arbitrary attributes which they have acquired as the result of a peculiar and fortuitous series of historical incidents.

It is therefore utterly inconceivable and in the highest degree improbable that this long chain of chance circumstances should have happened a second time in America, and have been responsible for the creation of the same bizarre story in reference to one of the rarer American snakes of a localized distribution, whose horns are mere vestiges, which no one but a trained morphologist is likely to have noticed or recognized as such.

But the American horned serpent, like its Babylonian and Indian homologues, is also the enemy of the thunder bird. Here is a further corroboration of the transmission to America of ideas which were the chance result of certain historical events in the Old World, which I have mentioned in this lecture.

In the figure on page 94 I reproduce a remarkable drawing of an American dragon. If the Algonkin Indians had not preserved legends of a winged serpent equipped with deer's antlers, no value could be assigned to this sketch: but as we know that this particular tribe retains the legend of just such a wonder-beast, we are justified in treating this drawing as something more than a jest.

"Petroglyphs are reported by Mr. John Criley as occurring near Ava, Jackson County, Illinois. The outlines of the characters observed by him were drawn from memory and submitted to Mr. Charles S. Mason, of Toledo, Ohio, through whom they were furnished to the Bureau of Ethnology. Little reliance can be placed upon the accuracy of such drawing, but from the general appearance of the sketches the originals of which they are copies were probably made by one of the middle Algonquin tribes of Indians. 1

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"The 'Piasa' rock, as it is generally designated, was referred to by the missionary explorer Marquette in 1675. Its situation was immediately above the city of Alton, Illinois."

Marquette's remarks are translated by Dr. Francis Parkman as follows:—

"On the flat face of a high rock were painted, in red, black, and green, a pair of monsters, each 'as large as a calf, with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger, and a frightful expression of countenance. The face is something like that of a man, the body covered with scales; and the tail so long that it passes entirely round the body, over the head, and between the legs, ending like that of a fish.'"

Another version, by Davidson and Struve, of the discovery of the petroglyph is as follows:—

"Again they (Joliet and Marquette) were floating on the broad bosom of the unknown stream. Passing the mouth of the Illinois, they soon fell into the shadow of a tall promontory, and with great astonishment beheld the representation of two monsters painted on its lofty limestone front. According to Marquette, each of these frightful figures had the face of a man, the horns of a deer, the beard of a tiger, and the tail of a fish so long that it passed around the body, over the head, and between the legs. It was an object of Indian worship and greatly impressed the mind of the pious missionary with the necessity of substituting for this monstrous idolatry the worship of the true God."

A footnote connected with the foregoing quotation gives the following description of the same rock:—

"Near the mouth of the Piasa creek, on the bluff, there is a smooth rock in a cavernous cleft, under an overhanging cliff, on whose face 50 feet from the base, are painted some ancient pictures or hieroglyphics, of great interest to the curious. They are placed in a horizontal line from east to west, representing men, plants and animals. The paintings, though protected from dampness and storms, are in great part destroyed, marred by portions of the rock becoming detached and falling down."

Mr. McAdams, of Alton, Illinois, says, "The name Piasa is Indian and signifies, in the Illini, the bird which devours men". He furnishes a spirited pen-and-ink sketch, 12 by 15 inches in size and purporting to represent the ancient painting described by Marquette.

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[paragraph continues] On the picture is inscribed the following in ink: "Made by Wm. Dennis, April 3rd, 1825". The date is in both letters and figures. On the top of the picture in large letters are the two words, "FLYING DRAGON". This picture, which has been kept in the old Gilham family of Madison county and bears the evidence of its age, is reproduced as Fig. 3.

He also publishes another representation with the following remarks:—

"One of the most satisfactory pictures of the Piasa we have ever seen is in an old German publication entitled 'The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated. Eighty illustrations from Nature, by H. Lewis, from the Falls of St. Anthony to the Gulf of Mexico,' published about the year 1839 by Arenz & Co., Dusseldorf, Germany. One of the


large full-page plates in this work gives a fine view of the bluff at Alton, with the figure of the Piasa on the face of the rock. It is represented to have been taken on the spot by artists from Germany. … In the German picture there is shown just behind the rather dim outlines of the second face a ragged crevice, as though of a fracture. Part of the bluff's face might have fallen and thus nearly destroyed one of the monsters, for in later years writers speak of but one figure. The whole face of the bluff was quarried away in 1846-47."

The close agreement of this account with that of the Chinese and Japanese dragon at once arrests attention. The anatomical peculiarities are so extraordinary that if Père Marquette's account is trustworthy there is no longer any room for doubt of the Chinese or Japanese derivation of this composite creature. If the account is not accepted we will be driven, not only to attribute to the pious seventeenth-century missionary serious dishonesty or culpable gullibility, but also to credit him with

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a remarkably precise knowledge of Mongolian archæology. When Algonkin legends are recalled, however, I think we are bound to accept the missionary's account as substantially accurate.

Minns claims that representations of the dragon are unknown in China before the Han dynasty. But the legend of the dragon is much more ancient. The evidence has been given in full by de Visser. 1

He tells us that the earliest reference is found in the Yih King, and shows that the dragon was "a water animal akin to the snake, which [used] to sleep in pools during winter and arises in the spring". "It is the god of thunder, who brings good crops when he appears in the rice fields (as rain) or in the sky (as dark and yellow clouds), in other words when he makes the rain fertilize the ground" (p. 38).

In the Shu King there is a reference to the dragon as one of the symbolic figures painted on the upper garment of the emperor Hwang Ti (who according to the Chinese legends, which of course are not above reproach, reigned in the twenty-seventh century B.C.). In this ancient literature there are numerous references to the dragon, and not merely to the legends, but also to representations of the benign monster on garments, banners and metal tablets. 2 "The ancient texts ... are short, but sufficient to give us the main conceptions of Old China with regard to the dragon. In those early days [just as at present] he was the god of water, thunder, clouds, and rain, the harbinger of blessings, and the symbol of holy men. As the emperors are the holy beings on earth, the idea of the dragon being the symbol of Imperial power is based upon this ancient conception" (op. cit., p. 42).

In the fifth appendix to the Yih King, which has been ascribed to Confucius (i.e. three centuries earlier than the Han dynasty mentioned by Mr. Minns), it is stated that "K’ien (Heaven) is a horse, Kw’un (Earth) is a cow, Chen (Thunder) is a dragon" (op. cit., p. 37). 3

The philosopher Hwai Nan Tsze (who died 122 B.C.) declared that the dragon is the origin of all creatures, winged, hairy, scaly, and

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mailed; and he propounded a scheme of evolution (de Visser, p. 65). He seems to have tried to explain away the fact that he had never actually witnessed the dragon performing some of the remarkable feats attributed to it: "Mankind cannot see the dragons rise: wind and rain assist them to ascend to a great height" (op. cit., p. 65). Confucius also is credited with the frankness of a similar confession: "As to the dragon, we cannot understand his riding on the wind and clouds and his ascending to the sky. To-day I saw Lao Tsze; is he not like the dragon?" (p. 65).

This does not necessarily mean that these learned men were sceptical of the beliefs which tradition had forged in their minds, but that the dragon had the power of hiding itself in a cloak of invisibility, just as clouds (in which the Chinese saw dragons) could be dissipated in the sky. The belief in these powers of the dragon was as sincere as that of learned men of other countries in the beneficent attributes which tradition had taught them to assign to their particular deities. In the passages I have quoted the Chinese scholars were presumably attempting to bridge the gap between the ideas inculcated by faith and the evidence of their senses, in much the same sort of spirit as, for instance, actuated Dean Buckland last century, when he claimed that the glacial deposits of this country afforded evidence in confirmation of the Deluge described in the Book of Genesis.

The tiger and the dragon, the gods of wind and water, are the keystones of the doctrine called fung shui, which Professor de Groot has described in detail. 1

He describes it "as a quasi-scientific system, supposed to teach men where and how to build graves, temples, and dwellings, in order that the dead, the gods, and the living may be located therein exclusively, or as far as possible, under the auspicious influences of Nature". The dragon plays a most important part in this system, being "the chief spirit of water and rain, and at the same rime representing one of the four quarters of heaven (i.e. the East, called the Azure Dragon, and the first of the seasons, spring)." The word Dragon comprises the high grounds in general, and the water streams which have their sources therein or wind their way through them. 2

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The attributes thus assigned to the Blue Dragon, his control of water and streams, his dwelling on high mountains whence they spring, and his association with the East, will be seen to reveal his identity with the so-called "god B" of American archaeologists, the elephant-headed god Tlaloc of the Aztecs, Chac of the Mayas, whose more direct parent was Indra.

It is of interest to note that, according to Gerini, 1 the word Nâga denotes not only a snake but also an elephant. Both the Chinese dragon and the Mexican elephant-god are thus linked with the Nâga, who is identified both with Indra himself and Indra's enemy Vritra. This is another instance of those remarkable contradictions that one meets at every step in pursuing the dragon. In the confusion resulting from the blending of hostile tribes and diverse cultures the Aryan deity who, both for religious and political reasons, is the enemy of the Nâgas becomes himself identified with a Nâga!

I have already called attention (Nature, Jan. 27, 1916) to the fact that the graphic form of representation of the American elephant-headed god was derived from Indonesian pictures of the makara. In India itself the makara (see ) is represented in a great variety of forms, most of which are prototypes of different kinds of dragons. Hence the homology of the elephant-headed god with the other dragons is further established and shown to be genetically related to the evolution of the protean manifestations of the dragon's form.

The dragon in China is "the heavenly giver of fertilizing rain (oft. cit., p. 36). In the Shu King "the emblematic figures of the ancients are given as the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountain, the dragon, and the variegated animals (pheasants) which are depicted on the upper sacrificial garment of the Emperor (p. 39). In the Li Ki the unicorn, the phoenix, the tortoise, and the dragon are called the four ling (p. 39), which de Visser translates "spiritual beings," creatures with enormously strong vital spirit. The dragon possesses the most ling of all creatures (p. 64). The tiger is the deadly enemy of the dragon (p. 42).

The dragon sheds a brilliant light at night (p. 44), usually from his glittering eyes. He is the giver of omens (p. 45), good and bad,

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rains and floods. The dragon-horse is a vital spirit of Heaven and Earth (p. 58) and also of river water: it has the tail of a huge serpent.

The ecclesiastical vestments of the Wu-ist priests are endowed with magical properties which are considered to enable the wearer to control the order of the world, to avert unseasonable and calamitous events, such as drought, untimely and superabundant rainfall, and eclipses. These powers are conferred by the decoration upon the dress. Upon the back of the chief vestment the representation of a range of mountains is embroidered as a symbol of the world: on each side (the right and left) of it a large dragon arises above the billows to represent the fertilizing rain. They are surrounded by gold-thread figures representing clouds and spirals typifying rolling thunder. 1

A ball, sometimes with a spiral decoration, is commonly represented in front of the Chinese dragon. The Chinese writer Koh Hung tells us that "a spiral denotes the rolling of thunder from which issues a flash of lightning ". 2 De Visser discusses this question at some length and refers to Hirth's claim that the Chinese triquetrum, i.e., the well-known three-comma shaped figure, the Japanese mitsu-tomoe, the ancient spiral, represents thunder also.' 3 Before discussing this question, which involves the consideration of the almost world-wide belief in a thunder-weapon and its relationship to the spiral ornament, the octopus,

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the pearl, the swastika and triskele, let us examine further the problem of the dragon's ball (see Fig. 15).

De Groot regards the dragon as a thunder-god and therefore, like Hirai, assumes that the supposed thunder-ball is being belched forth and not being swallowed by the dragon. But de Visser, as the result of a conversation with Mr. Kramp and the study of a Chinese picture in Blacker's "Chats on Oriental China" (1908, p. 54), puts forward the suggestion that the ball is the moon or the pearl-moon which the dragon is swallowing, thereby causing the fertilizing rain. The Chinese themselves refer to the ball as the "precious pearl," which, under the influence of Buddhism in China, was identified with "the pearl that grants all desires" and is under the special protection of the Nâga, i.e., the dragon. Arising out of this de Visser puts the conundrum: "Was the ball originally also a pearl, not of Buddhism but of Taoism?"

In reply to this question I may call attention to the fact that the germs of civilization were first planted in China by people strongly imbued with the belief that the pearl was the quintessence of life-giving and prosperity-conferring powers: 1 it was not only identified with the moon, but also was itself a particle of moon-substance which fell as dew into the gaping oyster. It was the very people who held such views about pearls and gold who, when searching for alluvial gold and freshwater pearls in Turkestan, were responsible for transferring these same life-giving properties to jade; and the magical value thus attached to jade was the nucleus, so to speak, around which the earliest civilization of China was crystallized.

As we shall see, in the discussion of the thunder-weapon (p. 121), the luminous pearl, which was believed to have fallen from the sky, was homologized with the thunderbolt, with the functions of which its own magical properties were assimilated.

Kramp called de Visser's attention to the fact that the Chinese hieroglyphic character for the dragon's ball is compounded of the signs for jewel and moon, which is also given in a Japanese lexicon as divine pearl, the pearl of the bright moon.

"When the clouds approached and covered the moon, the ancient

p. 100

[paragraph continues] Chinese may have thought that the dragons had seized and swallowed this pearl, more brilliant than all the pearls of the sea" (de Visser, p. 108).

The difficulty de Visser finds in regarding his own theory as wholly satisfactory is, first, the red colour of the ball, and secondly, the spiral pattern upon it. He explains the colour as possibly an attempt to represent the pearl's lustre. But de Visser seems to have overlooked the fact that red and rose-coloured pearls obtained from the conch-shell were used in China and Japan. 1

"The spiral is much used in delineating the sacred pearls of Buddhism, so that it might have served also to design those of Taoism; although I must acknowledge that the spiral of the Buddhist pearl goes upward, while the spiral of the dragon is flat" (p. 103).

De Visser sums up the whole argument in these words:—

"These are, however, all mere suppositions. The only facts we know are: the eager attitude of the dragons, ready to grasp and swallow the ball; the ideas of the Chinese themselves as to the ball being the moon or a pearl; the existence of a kind of sacred "moon-pearl"; the red colour of the ball, its emitting flames and its spiral-like form. As the three last facts are in favour of the thunder theory, I should be inclined to prefer the latter. Yet I am convinced that the dragons do not belch out the thunder. If their trying to grasp or swallow the thunder could be explained, I should immediately accept the theory concerning the thunder-spiral, especially on account of the flames it emits. But I do not see the reason why the god of thunder should persecute thunder itself. Therefore, after having given the above facts that the reader may take them into consideration, I feel obliged to say: 'non liquet'" (p. 108).

It does not seem to have occurred to the distinguished Dutch scholar, who has so lucidly put the issue before us, that his demonstration of the fact of the ball being the pearl-moon about to be swallowed by the dragon does not preclude it being also confused with the thunder. Elsewhere in this volume I have referred to the origin of the spiral symbolism and have shown that it became associated with the pearl before it became the symbol of thunder. The pearl-association in fact was

p. 101

one of the links in the chain of events which made the pearl and the spirally-coiled arm of the octopus the sign of thunder. 1

It seems quite clear to me that de Visser's pearl-moon theory is the true interpretation. But when the pearl-ball was provided with the spiral, painted red, and given flames to represent its power of emitting light and shining by night, the fact of the spiral ornamentation and of the pearl being one of the surrogates of the thunder-weapon was rationalized into an identification of the ball with thunder and the light it was emitting as lightning. It is, of course, quite irrational for a thunder-god to swallow his own thunder: but popular interpretations of subtle symbolism, the true explanation of which is deeply buried in the history of the distant past, are rarely logical and almost invariably irrelevant.

In his account of the state of Brahmanism in India after the times of the two earlier Vedas, Professor Hopkins 2 throws light upon the real significance of the ball in the dragon-symbolism. "Old legends are varied. The victory over Vritra is now expounded thus: Indra, who slays Vritra, is the sun. Vritra is the moon, who swims into the sun's mouth on the night of the new moon. The sun rises after swallowing him, and the moon is invisible because he is swallowed. The sun vomits out the moon, and the latter is then seen in the west, and increases again, to serve the sun as food. In another passage it is said that when the moon is invisible he is hiding in plants and waters."

This seems to clear away any doubt as to the significance of the ball. It is the pearl-moon, which is both swallowed and vomited by the dragon.

The snake takes a more obtrusive part in the Japanese than in the Chinese dragon and it frequently manifests itself as a god of the sea. The old Japanese sea-gods were often female water-snakes. The cultural influences which reached Japan from the south by way of Indonesia—many centuries before the coming of Buddhism—naturally emphasized the serpent form of the dragon and its connexion with the ocean.

But the river-gods, or "water-fathers," were real four-footed dragons identified with the dragon-kings of Chinese myth, but at the

p. 102

same time were strictly homologous with the Nâga Rajas or cobra-kings of India.

The Japanese "Sea Lord" or "Sea Snake" was also called "Abundant-Pearl-Prince," who had a magnificent palace at the bottom of the sea. His daughter ("Abundant-Pearl-Princess") married a youth whom she observed, reflected in the well, sitting on a cassia tree near the castle gate. Ashamed at his presence at her lying-in she was changed into a wane or crocodile (de Visser, p. 139), elsewhere described as a dragon (makara). De Visser gives it as his opinion that the wani is "an old Japanese dragon, or serpent-shaped sea-god, and the legend is an ancient Japanese tale, dressed in an Indian garb by later generations" (p. 140). He is arguing that the Japanese dragon existed long before Japan carne under Indian influence. But he ignores the fact that at a very early date both India and China were diversely influenced by Babylonia, the great breeding place of dragons; and, secondly, that Japan was influenced by Indonesia, and through it by the West, for many centuries before the arrival of such later Indian legends as those relating to the palace under the sea, the castle gate and the cassia tree. As Aston (quoted by de Visser) remarks, all these incidents and also the well that serves as a mirror, "form a combination not unknown to European folklore".

(After de Visser had given his own views, he modified them on p. 141) when he learned that essentially the same dragon-stories had been recorded in the Kei Islands and Minahassa (Celebes). In the light of this new information he frankly admits that "the resemblance of several features of this myth with the Japanese one is so striking, that we may be sure that the latter is of Indonesian origin." He goes further when he recognizes that "probably the foreign invaders, who in prehistoric times conquered Japan, came from Indonesia, and brought the myth with them" (p. 141). The evidence recently brought together by W. J. Perry in his book "The Megalithic Culture of Indonesia" makes it certain that the people of Indonesia in turn got it from the West.

An old painting reproduced by F. W. K. Müller, 1 who called de Visser's attention to these interesting stories, shows Hohodemi (the

p. 103

youth on the cassia tree who married the princess) returning home mounted on the back of a crocodile, like the Indian Varuna upon the makara in a drawing reproduced by the late Sir George Birdwood. 1

The wani or crocodile thus introduced from India, via Indonesia, is really the Chinese and Japanese dragon, as Aston has claimed. Aston refers to Japanese pictures in which the Abundant-Pearl-Prince and his daughter are represented with dragon's heads appearing over their human ones, but in the old Indonesian version they maintain their forms as wani or crocodiles.

The dragon's head appearing over a human one is quite an Indian motive, transferred to China and from there to Korea and Japan (de Visser, p. 142), and, I may add, also to America.

[Since the foregoing paragraphs have been printed, the Curator of the Liverpool Museum has kindly called my attention to a remarkable series of Maya remains in the collection under his care, which were obtained in the course of excavations made by Mr. T. W. F. Gann, M.R.C.S., an officer in the Medical Service of British Honduras (see his account of the excavations in Part II. of the 19th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution of Washington). Among them is a pottery figure of a wani or makara in the form of an alligator, equipped with diminutive deer's horns (like the dragon of Eastern Asia); and its skin is studded with circular elevations, presumably meant to represent the spots upon the star-spangled "Celestial Stag" of the Aryans (p. 130). As in the Japanese pictures mentioned by Aston, a human head is seen emerging from the creature's throat. It affords a most definite and convincing demonstration of the sources of American culture.]

The jewels of flood and ebb in the Japanese legends consist of the pearls of flood and ebb obtained from the dragon's palace at the bottom of the sea. By their aid storms and floods could be created to destroy enemies or calm to secure safety for friends. Such stories are the logical result of the identification of pearls with the moon, the influence of which upon the tides was probably one of the circumstances which was responsible for bringing the moon into the circle of the great scientific theory of the life-giving powers of water. This in turn played a great, if not decisive, part in originating the earliest belief in a sky world, or heaven.


83:1 "Precolumbian Representations of the Elephant in America," Nature, Nov. 25, 1915, p. 340; Dec. 16, 1915, p. 425; and Jan. 27, 1916, p. 593.

83:2 History of Melanesian Society," Cambridge, 1914.

84:1 H. Beuchat, "Manuel d’ Archéologie Americaine," 1912, p. 319.

84:2 "Representation of Deities of the Maya Manuscripts," Papers of the Peabody Museum, vol. iv., 1904.

84:3 Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, Bd. 40, 1908, p. 716.

84:4 "Die Tierbilder der mexikanischen and der Maya-Handschriften," Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, Bd. 42, 1910, pp. 75 and 77. In the remarkable series of drawings from Maya and Aztec sources reproduced by Seler in his articles in the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, the Peabody Museum Papers, and his monograph on the Codex Vaticanus, not only is practically every episode of the dragon-myth of the Old World graphically depicted, but also every phase and incident of the legends from India (and Babylonia, Egypt and the Ægean) that contributed to the building-up of the myth.

85:1 Compare Hopkins, "Religions of India," p. 94.

85:2 Herbert J. Spinden, "Maya Art," p. 62.

86:1 Seler, "Codex Vaticanus," Figs. 299-304.

86:2 See, for example, F. W. K. Müller, "Nang," Int. Arch. f. Ethnolog., 1894, Suppl. zu Bd. vii., Taf. vii., where the mask of Ravana (a late surrogate of Indra in the Ramayana) reveals a survival of the prototype of the Mexican designs.

86:3 Joyce, op. cit., p. 37.

86:4 For the incident of the stealing of the soma by Garuda, who in this legend is the representative of Indra, see Hopkins, "Religions of India," pp. 360-61.

87:1 "The Influence of Ancient Egyptian Civilization in the East and in America," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 1916, Fig. 4, "The Serpent-Bird".

87:2 Probably from about 300 B.C. to 700 A.D.

88:1 For information concerning Ea's "Goat-Fish," which can truly be called the "Father of Dragons," as well as the prototype of the Indian makara, the mermaid, the "sea-serpent," the "dolphin of Aphrodite," and of most composite sea-monsters, see W. H. Ward's "Seal Cylinders of Western Asia," pp. 382 et seq. and 399 et seq.; and especially the detailed reports in de Morgan's Mémoires (Délégation en Perse).

88:2 Nature, op. cit., supra.

88:3 "Juan Martinez Hernández, "La Creación del Mundo segun los Mayas," Paginas Inéditas del MS. De Chumayel, International Congress of Americanists, Proceedings of the XVIII. Session, London, 1912, p. 164.

89:1 From the folk-lore of America I have collected many interesting variants of the Indra story and other legends (and artistic designs) of the elephant. I hope to publish these in the near future.

90:1 Peabody Museum Papers, 1901.

90:2 See, for example, Wilfrid Jackson's "Shells as Evidence of the Migration of Early Culture," pp. 50-66.

90:3 "Notes on the Maoris, etc.," Journal of the Ethnological Society, vol. i., 1869, p. 368.

91:1 Op. cit., p. 231.

92:1 I quote this and the following paragraphs verbatim from Garrick Mallery, "Picture Writing of the American Indians," 10th Annual Report, 1888-89, Bureau of Ethnology (Smithsonian Institute), p. 78.

95:1 Op. cit., pp. 35 et seq.

95:2 See de Visser, p. 41.

95:3 There can be no doubt that the Chinese dragon is the descendant of the early Babylonian monster, and that the inspiration to create it probably reached Shensi during the third millennium B.C. by the route indicated in my "Incense and Libations" (Bull. John Ryland's Library, vol. iv., No. 2, p. 239). Some centuries later the Indian dragon reached the Far East via Indonesia and mingled with his Babylonian cousin in Japan and China.

96:1 "Religious System of China," vol. iii., chap. xii., pp. 936-1056.

96:2 This paragraph is taken almost verbatim from de Visser, op. cit., pp. 59 and 60.

97:1 G. E. Gerini, "Researches on Ptolemy's Geography of Eastern Asia," Asiatic Society's Monographs, No. 1, 1909, p. 146.

98:1 De Visser, p. 102, and de Groot, vi., p. 1265, Plate XVIII. The reference to "a range of mountains … as a symbol of the world" recalls the Egyptian representation of the eastern horizon as two hills between which Hathor or her son arises (see Budge, "Gods of the Egyptians," vol. ii., p. 101; and compare Griffith's "Hieroglyphs," p. 30): the same conception was adopted in Mesopotamia (see Ward, "Seal Cylinders of Western Asia," fig. 412, p. 156) and in the Mediterranean (see Evans, "Mycenæan Tree and Pillar Cult," pp. 37 et seq.). It is a remarkable fact that Sir Arthur Evans, who, upon p. 64 of his memoir, reproduces two drawings of the Egyptian "horizon" supporting the sun's disk, should have failed to recognize in it the prototype of what he calls "the horns of consecration". Even if the confusion of the "horizon" with a cow's horns was very ancient (for the horns of the Divine Cow supporting the moon made this inevitable), this rationalization should not blind us as to the real origin of the idea, which is preserved in the ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Cretan and Chinese pictures (see , facing p. 188).

98:2 De Visser, p. 103.

98:3 P. 104, The Chinese triquetrum has a circle in the centre and five or eight commas.

99:1 See on this my paper "The Origin of Early Siberian Civilization," now being published in the Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society.

100:1 Wilfrid Jackson, "Shells as Evidence of the Migrations of Early Culture," p. 106.

101:1 I shall discuss this more fully in "The Birth of Aphrodite".

101:2 "Religions of India," p. 197.

102:1 "Mythe der Kei-Insulaner und Verwandtes," Zeitsch. f. Ethnologie, vol. xxv., 1893, pp. 533 et seq.

103:1 See Fig. 14.

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