Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
The cowry and its surrogates were supposed to be potent to confer fertility on maidens; and it became the practice for growing girls to wear a girdle on which to suspend the shells as near as possible to the organ their magic was supposed to stimulate. Among many peoples 2 this girdle was discarded as soon as the girls reached maturity.
This practice probably represents the beginning of the history of clothing; but it had other far-reaching effects in the domain of belief.
It has often been claimed that the feeling of modesty was not the reason for the invention of clothing, but that the clothes begat modesty. 3 This doctrine contains a certain element of truth, but is by no means the whole explanation. For true modesty is displayed by people who have never worn clothes.
Before mankind could appreciate the psychological fact that the wearing of clothing might add to an individual's allurement and enhance her sexual attractiveness, some other circumstances must have been responsible for suggesting the experiments out of which this empirical knowledge emerged. The use of a girdle (a) as a protection against danger to life, and (I) as a means of conferring fecundity on
girls 1 provided the circumstances which enabled men to discover that the sexual attractiveness of maidens, which in a state of nature was originally associated with modesty and coyness, was profoundly intensified by the artifices of clothing and adornment.
Among people (such as those of East Africa and Southern Arabia) in which it was customary for unmarried girls to adorn themselves with a girdle, it is easy to understand how the meaning of the practice underwent a change, and developed into a device for enhancing their charms and stimulating the imaginations of their suitors. Out of such experience developed the idea of the magical girdle as an allurement and a love-provoking charm or philtre. Thus Aphrodite's girdle acquired the reputation of being able to compel love. When Ishtar removed her girdle in the under-world reproduction ceased in the world. The Teutonic Brunhild's great strength lay in her girdle. In fact magic virtues were conferred upon most goddesses in every part of the world by means of a cestus of some sort. 2 But the outstanding
feature of Aphrodite's character as a goddess of love is intimately bound up with these conceptions which developed from the wearing of a girdle of cowries.
In the Biblical narrative, after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, "the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons," or, as the Revised Version expresses it, "girdles". The girdle of fig-leaves, however, was originally a surrogate of the
(a) The mother-goddess standing upon a lioness (which is her Sekhet form): she is wearing her girdle, and upon her head is the moon and the cow's horns, conventionalized so as to simulate the crescent moon. Her hair is represented in the conventional form which is sometimes used as Hathor's symbol. In her hands are the serpent and the lotus, which again are merely forms of the goddess herself.
(b) Another picture of Astarte (from Roscher's "Lexikon") holding the papyrus sceptre which at times is regarded as an animate form of the mother-goddess herself and as such a thunder weapon.
girdle of cowries: it was an amulet to give fertility. The consciousness of nakedness was part of the knowledge acquired as the result of the wearing of such girdles (and the clothing into which they developed), and was not originally the motive that impelled our remote ancestors to clothe themselves.
The use of fig-leaves for the girdle in Palestine is an interesting connecting link between the employment of the cowry and the mandrake for similar purposes in the neighbourhood of the Red Sea and in Cyprus and Syria respectively (vide infra).
In Greece and Italy, the sweet basil has a reputation for magical
properties analogous to those of the cowry. Maidens collect the plant and wear bunches of it upon their body or upon their girdles; while married women fix basil upon their heads. 1 It is believed that the odour of the plant will attract admirers: hence in Italy it is called Bacia-nicola, "Kiss me, Nicholas". 2
In Crete it is a sign of mourning presumably because its life-prolonging attributes, as a means of conferring continued existence to the dead, have been so rationalized in explanation of its use at funerals.
On New Year's day in Athens boys carry a boat and people remark, "St. Basil is come from Cæsarea".
153:2 See Jackson, op. cit., pp. 139 et seq.
153:3 For a discussion of this subject see the chapter on "The Psychology of Modesty and Clothing," in William I. Thomas's "Sex and Society," Chicago, 1907; also S. Reinach, "Cults, Myths, and Religions," p. 177; and Paton, "The Pharmakoi and the Story of the Fall," Revue Archéol., Série IV, T. IX, 1907, p. 51.
154:1 It is important to remember that shell-girdles were used by both sexes for general life-giving and luck-bringing purposes, in the funerary ritual of both sexes, in animating the dead or statues of the dead, to attain success in hunting, fishing, and head-hunting, as well as in games. Thus men also at times wore shells upon their belts or aprons, and upon their implements and fishing nets, and adorned their trophies of war and the chase with them. Such customs are found in all the continents of the Old World and also in America, as, for example, in the girdles of Conus- and Oliva-shells worn by the figures sculptured upon the Copan stelæ. See, for example, Maudslay's pictures of stele N, Plate 82 (Biologia Centrali-Americana; Archæology) inter alia. But they were much more widely used by women. not merely by maidens, but also by brides and married women, to heighten their fertility and cure sterility, and by pregnant women to ensure safe delivery in child-birth. It was their wider employment by women that gives these shells their peculiar cultural significance.
154:2 Witness the importance of the girdle in early Indian and American sculptures: in the literature of Egypt, Babylonia, Western Europe, and the Mediterranean area. For important Indian analogies and Egyptian parallels see Moret, "Mystères Égyptiens," p. 91, especially note 3. The magic girdle assumed a great variety of forms as the number of surrogates of the cowry increased. The mugwort (Artemisia) of Artemis was worn in the girdle on St. John's Eve (Rendel Harris, op. cit., p. 91): the people of Zante use vervain in the same way; the people of France (Creuse et Corrères) rye-stalks; Eve's fig-leaves; in Vedic India the initiate wore the "cincture of Munga's herbs"; and Kali had her girdle of hands. Breasted, ("Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt," p. 29) says: "In the oldest fragments we hear of Isis the great, who fastened on the girdle in Khemmis, when she brought her [censer] and burned incense before her son Horus".
156:1 This distinction between the significance of the amulet when worn on the girdle and on the head (in the hair), or as a necklace or bracelet, is very widespread. On the girdle it usually has the significance of stimulating the individual's fertility: worn elsewhere it was intended to ward off danger to life, i.e. to give good luck. An interesting surrogate of Hathor's distinctive emblem is the necklace of golden apples worn by a priestess of Apollo (Rendel Harris, op. cit., p. 42).
156:2 De Gubernatis, "Mythologie des Plantes," Vol. II, p. 35.