G H I J K L M 

Total read books on site:
more than 10 000

You can read its for free!

Text on one page: Few Medium Many
We may push back a god from Greece to
Phœnicia, from Phœnicia to Accadia, but, at the end of the end, we
reach a legend full of myths like those which Bushmen tell by the camp
fire, Eskimo in their dark huts, and Australians in the shade of the
_gunyeh_--myths cruel, puerile, obscene, like the fancies of the
savage myth-makers from which they sprang.


[6] A study of the contemporary stone age in Scotland will be found in
Mitchell's _Past and Present_.

[7] About twenty years ago, the widow of an Irish farmer, in Derry,
killed her deceased husband's horse. When remonstrated with by her
landlord, she said, 'Would you have my man go about on foot in the
next world?' She was quite in the savage intellectual stage.

[8] 'At the solemn festival suppers, ordained for the honour of the
gods, they forget not to serve up certain dishes of young whelp's
flesh' (Pliny, _H. N._, xxix. 4).

[9] Compare Cleobulus, Fr. 2: Bergk, _Lyr. Gr._, iii. 201. Ed. 4.

[10] Nov., 1880.

[11] Mr. Leslie Stephen points out to me that De Quincey's brother
heard 'the midnight axe' in the Galapagos Islands (_Autobiographical
Sketches_, 'My Brother').

[12] 'Ah, once again may I plant the great fan on her corn-heap, while
she stands smiling by, Demeter of the threshing floor, with sheaves
and poppies in her hands' (Theocritus, vii. 155-157).

[13] In Mr. Frazer's _Golden Bough_ is a very large collection of
similar harvest rites.

[14] _Odyssey_, xi. 32.

[15] _Rev. de l'Hist. des Rel._, vol. ii.



As the belated traveller makes his way through the monotonous plains
of Australia, through the Bush, with its level expanses and clumps of
grey-blue gum trees, he occasionally hears a singular sound. Beginning
low, with a kind of sharp tone thrilling through a whirring noise, it
grows louder and louder, till it becomes a sort of fluttering windy
roar. If the traveller be a new-comer, he is probably puzzled to the
last degree. If he be an Englishman, country-bred, he says to himself,
'Why, that is the bull-roarer.' If he knows the colony and the ways of
the natives, he knows that the blacks are celebrating their tribal
mysteries. The roaring noise is made to warn all women to keep out of
the way. Just as Pentheus was killed (with the approval of Theocritus)
because he profaned the rites of the women-worshippers of Dionysus,
so, among the Australian blacks, men must, at their peril, keep out of
the way of female, and women out of the way of male, celebrations.

The instrument which produces the sounds that warn women to remain
afar is a toy familiar to English country lads. They call it the
bull-roarer. The common bull-roarer is an inexpensive toy which any
one can make. I do not, however, recommend it to families, for two
reasons. In the first place, it produces a most horrible and
unexampled din, which endears it to the very young, but renders it
detested by persons of mature age. In the second place, the character
of the toy is such that it will almost infallibly break all that is
fragile in the house where it is used, and will probably put out the
eyes of some of the inhabitants. Having thus, I trust, said enough to
prevent all good boys from inflicting bull-roarers on their parents,
pastors and masters, I proceed (in the interests of science) to show
how the toy is made. Nothing can be less elaborate. You take a piece
of the commonest wooden board, say the lid of a packing-case, about a
sixth of an inch in thickness, and about eight inches long and three
broad, and you sharpen the ends. When finished, the toy may be about
the shape of a large bay-leaf, or a 'fish' used as a counter (that is
how the New Zealanders make it), or the sides may be left plain in the
centre, and only sharpened towards the extremities, as in an
Australian example lent me by Mr. Tylor. Then tie a strong piece of
string, about thirty inches long, to one end of the piece of wood, and
the bull-roarer (the Australian natives call it _turndun_, and the
Greeks call it ῥόμβος) is complete. Now twist the end of the string
tightly about your finger, and whirl the bull-roarer rapidly round and
round. For a few moments nothing will happen. In a very interesting
lecture delivered at the Royal Institution, Mr. Taylor once exhibited
a bull-roarer. At first it did nothing particular when it was whirled
round, and the audience began to fear that the experiment was like
those chemical ones often exhibited at institutes in the country,
which contribute at most a disagreeable odour to the education of the
populace. But when the bull-roarer warmed to its work, it justified
its name, producing what may best be described as a mighty rushing
noise, as if some supernatural being 'fluttered and buzzed his wings
with fearful roar.' Grown-up people, of course, are satisfied with a
very brief experience of this din, but boys have always known the
bull-roarer in England as one of the most efficient modes of making
the hideous and unearthly noises in which it is the privilege of youth
to delight.

The bull-roarer has, of all toys, the widest diffusion, and the most
extraordinary history. To study the bull-roarer is to take a lesson in
folklore. The instrument is found among the most widely severed
peoples, savage and civilised, and is used in the celebration of
savage and civilised mysteries. There are students who would found on
this a hypothesis that the various races that use the bull-roarer all
descend from the same stock. But the bull-roarer is introduced here
for the very purpose of showing that similar minds, working with
simple means towards similar ends, might evolve the bull-roarer and
its mystic uses anywhere. There is no need for a hypothesis of common
origin, or of borrowing, to account for this widely diffused sacred

The bull-roarer has been, and is, a sacred and magical instrument in
many and widely separated lands. It is found, always as a sacred
instrument, employed in religious mysteries, in New Mexico, in
Australia, in New Zealand, in ancient Greece, and in Africa; while, as
we have seen, it is a peasant boy's plaything in England. A number of
questions are naturally suggested by the bull-roarer. Is it a thing
invented once for all, and carried abroad over the world by wandering
races, or handed on from one people and tribe to another? Or is the
bull-roarer a toy that might be accidentally hit on in any country
where men can sharpen wood and twist the sinews of animals into
string? Was the thing originally a toy, and is its religious and
mystical nature later; or was it originally one of the properties of
the priest, or medicine-man, which in England has dwindled to a
plaything? Lastly, was this mystical instrument at first employed in
the rites of a civilised people like the Greeks, and was it in some
way borrowed or inherited by South Africans, Australians, and New
Mexicans? Or is it a mere savage invention, surviving (like certain
other features of the Greek mysteries) from a distant state of
savagery? Our answer to all these questions is that in all probability
the presence of the ῥόμβος, or bull-roarer, in Greek mysteries was
a survival from the time when Greeks were in the social condition of

In the first place the bull-roarer is associated with mysteries and
initiations. Now mysteries and initiations are things that tend to
dwindle and to lose their characteristic features as civilisation
advances. The rites of baptism and confirmation are not secret and
hidden; they are common to both sexes, they are publicly performed,
and religion and morality of the purest sort blend in these
ceremonies. There are no other initiations or mysteries that
civilised modern man is expected necessarily to pass through. On the
other hand, looking widely at human history, we find mystic rites and
initiations numerous, stringent, severe, and magical in character, in
proportion to the lack of civilisation in those who practise them. The
less the civilisation, the more mysterious and the more cruel are the
rites. The more cruel the rites, the less is the civilisation. The red
hot poker with which Mr. Bouncer terrified Mr. Verdant Green at the
sham masonic rites would have been quite in place, a natural
instrument of probationary torture, in the Freemasonry of Australians,
Mandans, or Hottentots. In the mysteries of Demeter or Bacchus, in the
mysteries of a civilised people, the red-hot poker, or any other
instrument of torture, would have been out of place. But in the Greek
mysteries, just as in those of South Africans, Red Indians, and
Australians, the disgusting practice of bedaubing the neophyte with
dirt and clay was preserved. We have nothing quite like that in modern
initiations. Except at Sparta, Greeks dropped the tortures inflicted
on boys and girls in the initiations superintended by the cruel
Artemis.[16] But Greek mysteries retained the daubing with mud and the
use of the bull-roarer. On the whole, then, and on a general view of
the subject, we prefer to think that the bull-roarer in Greece was a
survival from savage mysteries, not that the bull-roarer in New
Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa is a relic of

Let us next observe a remarkable peculiarity of the _turndun_, or
Australian bull-roarer. The bull-roarer in England is a toy. In
Australia, according to Howitt and Fison,[17] the bull-roarer is
regarded with religious awe. 'When, on lately meeting with two of the
surviving Kurnai, I spoke to them of the turndun, they first looked
cautiously round them to see that no one else was looking, and then
answered me in undertones.' The chief peculiarity in connection with
the turndun is that women may never look upon it. The Chepara tribe,
who call it _bribbun_, have a custom that, 'if seen by a woman, or
shown by a man to a woman, the punishment to both is _death_.'

Among the Kurnai, the sacred mystery of the turndun is preserved by a
legend, which gives a supernatural sanction to secrecy. When boys go
through the mystic ceremony of initiation they are shown turnduns, or
bull-roarers, and made to listen to their hideous din.

Pages: | Prev | | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | 17 | | 18 | | 19 | | 20 | | 21 | | 22 | | 23 | | 24 | | 25 | | 26 | | 27 | | 28 | | 29 | | 30 | | 31 | | 32 | | 33 | | 34 | | 35 | | 36 | | 37 | | 38 | | 39 | | 40 | | 41 | | 42 | | 43 | | 44 | | 45 | | 46 | | 47 | | 48 | | 49 | | 50 | | Next |

U V W X Y Z 

Your last read book:

You dont read books at this site.