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


In the lecture on "Incense and Libations" (Chapter I) I referred to the enrichment of the conception of water's life-giving properties which the inclusion of the idea of human fertilization by water involved. When this event happened a new view developed in explanation of the part played by woman in reproduction. She was no longer regarded as the real parent of mankind, but as the matrix in which the seed was planted and nurtured during the course of its growth and development. Hence in the earliest Egyptian hieroglyphic writing the picture of a pot of water was taken as the symbol of womanhood, the "vessel" which received the seed. A globular water-pot, the common phonetic value of which is Nw or Nu, was the symbol of the cosmic waters, the god Nw (Nu), whose female counterpart was the goddess Nut.

In his report, "A Collection of Hieroglyphs," 3 Mr. F. Ll. Griffith discusses the bowl of water (a) and says that it stands for the female principle in the words for vulva and woman. When it is recalled that the cowry (and other shells) had the same double significance, the possibility suggests itself whether at times confusion may

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not have arisen between the not very dissimilar hieroglyphic signs for "a shell" (h) and "the bowl of water" (woman) (f). 1

Referring to the sign (g and h) for "a shell," Mr. Griffith says (p. 25): "It is regularly found at all periods in the word h̯aw∙t = 'altar, 2 and perhaps only in this word: but it is a peculiarity of the Pyramid Texts that the sign shown in the text-figures c, h, and i is in them used very commonly, not as a word-sign, but also as a

Fig. 6.

(a) Picture of a bowl of water—the hieroglyphic sign equivalent to hm (the word hmt means "woman")—Griffith, "Beni Hasan," Part III, Plate VI, Fig. 88 and p. 29.

(b) "A basket of sycamore figs"—Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians," Vol. I, p. 323.

(c) and (d) are said by Wilkinson to be hieroglyphic signs meaning "wife" and are apparently taken from (b). But (c) is identical with (i), which, according to Griffith (p. 14), represents a bivalve shell (g, from Plate III, Fig. 3), more usually placed obliquely (h). The varying conventionalizations of (a) or (b) are shown in (d), (e), and (f) (Griffith, "Hieroglyphics," p. 34).

(k) The sign for a lotus leaf, which is a phonetic equivalent of the sign (h), and, according to Griffith ("Hieroglyphics," p. 26), "is probably derived from the same root, on account of its shell-like outline".

(l) The hieroglyphic sign for a pot of water in such words as Nu and Nut.

(m) A "pomegranate" (replacing a bust of Tanit) upon a sacred column at Carthage (Arthur J. Evans, "Mycenæan Tree and Pillar Cult," p. 46).

(n) The form of the body of an octopus as conventionalized on the coins of Central Greece (compare Fig. 24 (d)). Its similarity to the Egyptian pot-sign (l) (which also has the significance of mother-goddess) is worthy of note.

phonetic equivalent to the sign labelled k (in the text-figure) for h̯’ (kha), or apparently for alone in many words.

"The name of the lotus leaf is probably derived from the same root, on account of its shell-like outline or vice versa."

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The familiar representation of Horus (and his homologues in India and elsewhere) being born from the lotus suggests that the flower represents his mother Hathor. But as the argument in these pages has

Fig. 7.

(a) An Egyptian design representing the sun-god Horus emerging from a lotus, representing his mother Hathor (Isis).

(b) Papyrus sceptre often carried by goddesses and animistically identified with them either as an instrument of life-giving or destruction.

(e) Conventionalized lily—the prototype of the trident and the thunder-weapon.

(d) A water-plant associated with the Nile-gods.

led us towards the inference that the original form of Hathor was a shell-amulet, 1 it seems not unlikely that her identification with the lotus

Fig. 24
Click to enlarge

Fig. 24

(a) and (b) Two Mycenæan pots (after Schliemann).

(a) The so-called "owl-shaped" vase is really a representation of the Mother-Pot in the form of a conventionalized Octopus (Houssay).

(b) The other vase represents the Octopus Mother-Pot, with a jar upon her head and another in her hands—a three-fold representation of the Great Mother as a pot.

(c) A Cretan vase from Gournia in which the Octopus-motive is represented as a decoration upon the pot instead of in its form.

(a), (e), (f), (g), and (h) A series of coins from Central Greece (after Head) showing a series of conventionalizations of the Octopus, with its pot-like body and palm-tree-like arms (f).

(i) Sepia officinalis (after Tryon).

(h) and (l) The so-called "spouting vases" in the hands of the Babylonian god Ea, from a cylinder seal of the time of Gudea, Patesi of Tello, after Ward ("Seal Cylinders, etc.," p. 215).

The "spouting vases" have been placed in conjunction with the Sepia to suggest the possibility of confusion with a conventionalized drawing of the latter in the blending of the symbolism of the water-jar and cephalopods in Western Asia and the Mediterranean.

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may have arisen from the confusion between the latter and the cowry, which no doubt was also in part due to the belief that both the shell and the plant were expressions of the vital powers of the water in which they developed.

The identification of the Great Mother with a pot was one of the factors that played a part in the assimilation of her attributes with those of the Water God, who in early Sumerian pictures was usually represented pouring the life-giving waters from his pot (Fig. 24, h and l).

This idea of the Mother Pot is found not only in Babylonia, Egypt, India, 1 and the Eastern Mediterranean, but wherever the influence of these ancient civilizations made itself felt. It is widespread among the Celtic-speaking peoples. In Wales the pot's life-giving powers are enhanced by making its rim of pearls. But as the idea spread, its meaning also became extended. At first it was merely a jug of water or a basket of figs, but elsewhere it became also a witch's cauldron, the magic cup, the Holy Grail, the font in which a child is reborn into the faith, the vessel of water here being interpreted in the earliest sense as the uterus or the organ of birth. The Celtic pot, so Mr. Donald Mackenzie tells me, is closely associated with cows, serpents, frogs, dragons, birds, pearls, and "nine maidens that blow the fire under the cauldron"; and, if the nature of these relationships be examined, each of them will be found to be a link between the pot and the Great Mother.

The witch's cauldron and the maidens who assist in the preparation of the witch's medicine seem to be the descendants respectively of Hathor's pots (in the story of the Destruction of Mankind) and the Sekti who churn up the didi and the barley with which to make the elixir of immortality and the sedative draught for the destructive goddess herself.

Mr. Donald Mackenzie has given me a number of additional references from Celtic and Indian literature in corroboration of these widespread associations of the pot with the Great Mother; and he reminds me that in Oceania the coco-nut has the same reputation as the pot in the Indian Mahābhārata. It is the source of food and anything else that is wanted, and its supply can never be exhausted. [On some future occasion I hope to make use of the wonderful legends of the

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pot's life-giving powers, to which Mr. Mackenzie has directed my attention. At present, however, I must content myself with the statement that the pot's identity with the Great Mother is deeply rooted in ancient belief throughout the greater part of the world. 1]

The diverse conceptions of the Great Mother as a pot and as an octopus seem to have been blended in Mycenæan lands, where the so-called "owl-shaped" pots were clearly intended to represent the goddess in both these aspects united in one symbol. When the diffusion of these ideas into more remote parts of the world took place syntheses with other motives produced a great variety of most complex forms. In Honduras pottery vessels have been found 2 which give tangible expression to the blending of the ideas of the Mother Pot, the crocodile-like Makara, star-spangled like Hathor's cow, Aphrodite's

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pig, and Soma's deer, and provided with the deer's antlers of the Eastern Asiatic dragon (see Chapter II, p. 103).

The New Testament sets forth the ancient conception of birth and rebirth. When Nicodemus asks: "How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" he is told: "Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the spirit is spirit" (John iii. 4, 5, and 6).

The phrase "born of water" refers to the birth "of the flesh"; and the mother's womb is the vessel containing "the water" from which the new life emerges. Plutarch states, with reference to the birth of Isis: "τετάρτη δε την Ἴσιν ἐν πανυγροις γενέσθαι". The great waters which produced all living things, the Egyptian god Nun and the goddess Nut, were expressed in hieroglyphic as pots of water. The goddess was identified with Hathor's celestial star-spangled cow, the original mother of the sun-god; and the word "Nun" was a symbol of all that was new, young, and fresh, and the fertilizing and life-giving waters of the annual inundation of the Nile. Hathor was the daughter of these waters, as Aphrodite was sprung from the sea-foam.


178:1 Cook, "Zeus," p. 346 et seq.

178:2 This is well shown upon the Copan representations (Fig. 19) of the elephant-headed god—see Nature, November, 25, 1915, p. 340.

178:3 Archæol. Survey of Egypt, 1898, p. 3.

179:1 Compare the two-fold meaning of the Latin testa as "shell" and "bowl".

179:2 Compare the association of shells with altars in Minoan Crete and the widespread use of large shells as bowls for "holy water" in Christian churches.

180:1 Miss Winifred M. Crompton, Assistant Keeper of the Egyptian Department of the Manchester Museum, has called my attention to a remarkable piece of evidence which affords additional corroboration of the view that Hathor was a development of the cowry-amulet. Upon the famous archaic palette of Narmer (), a sporran, composed of four representations of Hathor's head, takes the place of the original cowries that were suspended from more primitive girdles.

The cowries of the head ornament of primitive peoples of Africa and Asia (and of the Mediterranean area in early times—Schliemann's "Ilios," Fig. 685) are often replaced in Egypt by lotus flowers (W. D. Spanton, "Water Lilies of Egypt," Ancient Egypt, 1917, Part I, Figs. 19, 20, and 21). Upon the head-band of the statue of Nefert, which I have reproduced in Chapter I (Fig. 4), a conventional lotus design is found (see Spanton's Fig. 19), which is almost identical with the classical thunder-weapon.

181:1 Among the Dravidian people at the present day the seven goddesses (corresponding to the seven Hathors) are often represented by seven pots.

182:1 The luxuriant crop of stories of the Holy Grail was not inspired originally by mere literary invention. A tradition sprung from the fountainhead of all mythology, the parent-story of the Destruction of Mankind, provided the materials which a series of writers elaborated into the varied assortment of legends of the Mother Pot. The true meaning of the Quest of the Holy Grail can be understood only by reading the fabled accounts of it in the light of the ancient search for the elixir of life and the historical development of the narrative describing that search.

A concise summary of the Grail literature will be found in Jessie L. Weston's "The Quest of the Holy Grail" (1913). Her theory will be found, after some slight modifications, to fall into line with the general argument of this book.

Mr. F. Ll. Griffith tells me that the Egyptian hieroglyphic for the verb "coire cum" gives frank expression to the real meaning of the symbolism of the pot as the matrix which receives the seed. The same idea provides the material for the incident of the birth of Drona (the pot-born) in the Adi Parva (Sections CXXXI, CXXXIX, and CLXVIII, in Roy's translation) of the Mahabharata, to which Mr. Donald A. Mackenzie has kindly called my attention. Drona was conceived in a pot from the seed of a Rishi. A widespread variant of the same story is the conception of a child from a drop of blood in a pot (see, for example, Hartland, "Legend of Perseus," Vol. I, pp. 98 and 144). If the pot can thus create a human being, it is easy to understand how it acquired its reputation of being also able to multiply food and provide an inexhaustible supply. Similarly, all substances, such as barley, rice, gold, pearls, and jade, to which the possession of a special vital essence or "soul substance" was attributed, were believed to be able to reproduce themselves and so increase in quantity of their own activities. As "givers of life" they were also able to add to their own life-substance, in other words to grow like any other living being.

182:2 "An American Dragon," Man, November, 1918.

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