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


It was the similarity of the periodic phases of the moon and of womankind that originally suggested the identification of the Great Mother with the moon, and originated the belief that the moon was the regulator of human beings. 1 This was the starting-point of the system of astrology and the belief in Fates. The goddess of birth and death controlled and measured the lives of mankind.

But incidentally the moon determined the earliest subdivision of time into months; and the moon-goddess lent the sanctity of her divine attributes to the number twenty-eight.

The sun was obviously the determiner of day and night, and its rising and setting directed men's attention to the east and the west as cardinal points intimately associated with the daily birth and death of the sun. We have no certain clue as to the factors which first brought the north and the south into prominence. But it seems probable that the direction of the river Nile, 2 which was the guide to the orientation of the corpse in its grave, may have been responsible for giving special sanctity to these other cardinal points. The association of the direction of the deceased's head with the position of the original homeland and the eventual home of the dead would have made the south a "divine" region in Predynastic times. For similar reasons the north may have acquired special significance in the Early Dynastic period. 3

When the north and the south were added to the other two cardinal points the intimate association of the east and the west with the measurement of time would be extended to include all the four cardinal points. 4 Four became a sacred number associated with time-measurement, and especially with the sun. 5

Many other factors played a part in the establishment of the

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sanctity of the number four. Professor Lethaby has suggested 1 that the four-sided building was determined by certain practical factors, such as the desirability of fashioning a room to accommodate a woven mat, which was necessarily of a square or oblong form. But the study of the evolution of the early Egyptian grave and tomb-superstructures suggests that the early use of slabs of stone, wooden boards, and mud-bricks helped in the process of determining the four-sided form of house and room.

When, out of these rude beginnings, the vast four-sided pyramid was developed, the direction of its sides was brought into relationship with the four cardinal points; and there was a corresponding development and enrichment of the symbolism of the number four. The form of the divine house of the dead king, who was the god, was thus assimilated to the form of the universe, which was conceived as an oblong area at the four corners of which pillars supported the sky, as the four legs supported the Celestial Cow.

Having invested the numbers four and twenty-eight with special sanctity and brought them into association with the measurement of time, it was a not unnatural proceeding to subdivide the month into f our parts and so bring the number seven into the sacred scheme. Once this was done the moon's phases were used to justify and rationalize this procedure, and the length of the week was incidentally brought into association with the moon-goddess, who had seven avatars, perhaps originally one for each day of the week. At a later period the number seven was arbitrarily brought into relationship with the Pleiades.

The seven Hathors were not only mothers but fates also. Aphrodite was chief of the fates.

The number seven is associated with the pots used by Hathor's priestesses at the celebration inaugurating the new year; and it plays a prominent part in the Story of the Flood. In Babylonia the sanctity of the number received special recognition. When the goddess became the destroyer of mankind, the device seems to have been adopted of intensifying her powers of destruction by representing her at times as seven demons. 2

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But the Great Mother was associated not only with the week and month but also with the year. The evidence at our disposal seems to suggest that the earliest year-count was determined by the annual inundation of the river. The annual recurrence of the alternation of winter and summer would naturally suggest in a vague way such a subdivision of time as the year; but the exact measurement of that period and the fixing of an arbitrary commencement, a New Year's day, were due to other reasons. In the Story of the Destruction of Mankind it is recorded that the incident of the soothing of Hathor by means of the blood-coloured beer (which, as I have explained elsewhere, 1 is a reference to the annual Nile flood) was celebrated annually on New Year's day.

Hathor was regarded in tradition as the cause of the inundation. She slaughtered mankind and so caused the original "flood": in the next phase she was associated with the 7000 jars of red beer; and in the ultimate version with the red-coloured river flood, which in another story was reputed to be "the tears of Isis".

Hathor's day was in fact the date of the commencement of the inundation and of the year; and the former event marked the beginning-of the year and enabled men for the first time to measure its duration. Thus Hathor 2 was the measurer of the year, the month, and the week; while her son Horus (Chronus) was the day-measurer.

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In Tylor's "Early History of Mankind" (pp. 352 et seq.) there is a concise summary of some of the widespread stories of the Fountain of Youth which restores youthfulness to the aged who drank of it or bathed in it. He cites instances from India, Ethiopia, Europe, Indonesia, Polynesia, and America. "The Moslem geographer, Ibn-el-Wardi, places the Fountain of Life in the dark south-western regions of the earth" (p. 353).

The star Sothis rose heliacally on the first day of the Egyptian New Year. 1 Hence it became "the second sun in heaven," and was identified with the goddess of the New Year's Day. The identification of Hathor with this second sun" 2 may explain why the goddess is said to have entered Re's boat. She took her place as a crown upon his forehead, which afterwards was assumed by her surrogate, the fire-spitting uræus-serpent. When Horus took his mother's place in the myth, he also entered the sun-god's boat, and became the prototype of Noah seeking refuge from the Flood in the ship the Almighty instructed him to make.

In memory of the beer-drinking episode in the Destruction of Mankind, New Year's Day was celebrated by Hathor's priestesses in wild orgies of beer drinking.

This event was necessarily the earliest celebration of an anniversary, and the prototype of all the incidents associated with some special day in the year which have been so many milestones in the historical progress of civilization.

The first measurement of the year also naturally forms the starting-point in the framing of a calendar.

Similar celebrations took place to inaugurate the commencement of the year in all countries which came, either directly or indirectly, under Egyptian influence.

The month Ἀφροδίσα (so-called from the festival of the goddess) began the calendar of Bithynia, Cyprus, and Iasos, just as Hathor's feast was a New Year's celebration in Egypt.

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In the celebration of these anniversaries the priestesses of Aphrodite worked themselves up in a wild state of frenzy; and the term ὑστήρια 1 became identified with the state of emotional derangement associated with such orgies. The common belief that the term "hysteria" is derived directly from the Greek word for uterus is certainly erroneous. The word ὑστήρια was used in the same sense as Ἀφροδίσα, that is, as a synonym for the festivals of the goddess. The "hysteria" was the name for the orgy in celebration of the goddess on New Year's day: then it was applied to the condition produced by these excesses; and ultimately it was adopted in medicine to apply to similar emotional disturbances. Thus both the terms "hysteria" and "lunacy" 2 are intimately associated with the earliest phases in the moon-goddess's history; and their survival in modern medicine is a striking tribute to the strong hold of effete superstition in this branch of the diagnosis and treatment of disease. 3

I have already referred to the association of Artemis with the portal of birth and rebirth. As the guardian of the door her Roman representative Diana and her masculine avatar Dianus or Janus gave the name to the commencement of the year. The Great Mother not only initiated the measurement of the year, but she (or her representative) lent her name to the opening of the year in various countries.

But the story of the Destruction of Mankind has preserved the record not only of the circumstances which were responsible for originating the measurement of the year and the making of a calendar, but also of the materials out of which were formed the mythical epochs preserved

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in the legends of Greece and India and many other countries further removed from the original centre of civilization When the elaboration of the early story involved the destruction of mankind, it became necessary to provide some explanation of the continued existence of man upon the earth. This difficulty was got rid of by creating a new race of men from the fragments of the old or from the clay into which they had been transformed (supra, p. 196). In course of time this secondary creation became the basis of the familiar story of the original creation of mankind. But the story also became transformed in other ways. Different versions of the process of destruction were blended into one narrative, and made into a series of catastrophes and a succession of acts of creation. I shall quote (from Mr. T. A. Joyce's "Mexican Archæology," p. 50) one example of these series of mythical epochs or world ages to illustrate the method of synthesis:—

When all was dark Tezcatlipoca transformed himself into the sun to give light to men.

1. This sun terminated in the destruction of mankind, including a race of giants, by jaguars.

2. The second sun was Quetzalcoatl, and his age terminated in a terrible hurricane, during which mankind was transformed into monkey s.

3. The third sun was Tlaloc, and the destruction came by a rain of fire.

4. The fourth was Chalchintlicue, and mankind was finally destroyed by a deluge, during which they became fishes.

The first episode is clearly based upon the story of the lioness-form of Hathor destroying mankind: the second is the Babylonian story of Tiamat, modified by such Indian influences as are revealed in the Ramayana: the third is inspired by the Saga of the Winged Disk; and the fourth by the story of the Deluge.

Similar stories of world ages have been preserved in the mythologies of Eastern Asia, India, Western Asia, and Greece, and no doubt were derived from the same original source.


206:1 The Greek Chronus was the son of Selene.

206:2 Or possibly the situations of Upper and Lower Egypt.

206:3 See G. Elliot Smith, "The Ancient Egyptians".

206:4 The association of north and south with the primary subdivision of the state probably led to the inclusion of the other two cardinal points to make the subdivision four-fold.

206:5 The number four was associated with the sun-god. There were four "children of Horus" and four spokes to the wheel of the sun.

207:1 "Architecture," p. 24.

207:2 See the chapter on "Magic" in Jevons, "Comparative Religion". In his article "Magic (Egyptian)," in Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (p. 266), Dr. Alan Gardiner makes the following statement: p. 208 "The mystical potency attaching to certain numbers doubtless originated in associations of thought that to us are obscure. The number seven, in Egyptian magic, was regarded as particularly efficacious. Thus we find references to the seven Hathors: cf. αἰ ἑππὰ Τύχαι τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (A. Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie, Leipzig, 1910, p. 71): 'the seven daughters of Re,' who 'stand and weep and make seven knots in their seven tunics'; and similarly 'the seven hawks who are in front of the barque of Re'."

Are the seven daughters of Re the seven days of the week, or the representatives of Hathor corresponding to the seven days?

208:1 Chapter II, p. 118.

208:2 We have already seen that the primitive aspect of life-giving that played an essential part in the development of the story we are considering was the search for the means by which youth could be restored. It is significant that Hathor's reputed ability to restore youth is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts in association with her functions as the measurer of years: for she is said "to turn back the years from King Teti," so that they pass over him without increasing his age (Breasted, "Thought and Religion in Ancient Egypt," p. 124).

209:1 Breasted ("Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt," p. 22) states that as the inundation began at the rising of Sothis, the star of Isis, sister of Osiris, they said to him [i.e. Osiris]: "The beloved daughter, Sothis, makes thy fruits (rnpwt) in her name of 'Year' (rnpt)".

209:2 The Great Mother was identified with the moon, but when she became specialized, her representative adopted Sothis or Venus as her star.

210:1 "At Argos the principal fête of Aphrodite was called ὑστήρια because they offered sacrifices of pigs ("Athen." III, 49, 96; "Clem. Alex. Protr." 33)"—Article "Aphrodisia," Dict. des Antiquités, p. 308. The Greek word for pig had the double significance of "pig" and "female organs of reproduction".

210:2 Aphrodite sends Aphrodisiac "mania" (see Tümpel, op. cit., pp. 394 and 395).

210:3 There is still widely prevalent the belief in the possibility of being "moonstruck," and many people, even medical men who ought to know better, solemnly expound to their students the influence of the moon in producing "lunacy". If it were not invidious one could cite instances of this from the writings of certain teachers of psychological medicine in this country within the last few months. The persistence of these kinds of traditions is one of the factors that make it so difficult to effect any real reform in the treatment of mental disease in this country.

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