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IN a preceding article I urged the study of philosophy, not because the known philosophies are finalities, and therefore infallible helps, but because they are guides to sources, to fundamentals, whence thoughtful people in the past have drawn the refreshing waters that have quenched their intellectual and moral thirst.
I have a similar purpose in this article. I wish to lead to sources, to primitive and unbiased minds which, in their original simplicity, dealt with life's great problems in a freer way than we do. By a study of the mental, moral and spiritual processes of those minds, we may recover some of that wisdom which now is lost. If I shall succeed in telling you about ancient manners and customs, how they arose and what they signify, and, if I can repeat ancient legends clearly and make them shine in their original light and power, I shall be warranted in urging you to study folklore.
The term folklore is rather vague and the so-called science of folklore is of yesterday. The word itself was first used by Mr. Thorns in the Athenaeum of 1846, but folklore movements are no older than about twenty years.
I shall not waste time upon defining the word. In general it signifies such traditions, legends and uses that characterize the intellectual, moral, religious and social conditions of peoples of the past ages, as well as of savages of to-day. I shall not write merely because I want to entertain you; nay, I shall tell old stories in order to get at the soul or mind of them, and I shall endeavor to elucidate their symbolism for the sake of instruction. I shall treat all folklore tales as kindergarten material of more or less value.
We are in the habit of calling nursery tales and legends myths, and quite correctly, though most people do not know why or how they came to speak correctly. The word myth is the anglicized form of the Greek mythos, a word synonymous with the German Gemuth, which signifies, etymologically, mind and thoughts as yet undisclosed.
When we, therefore, treat the ancient legends as myths we may see in them the ancient mind and the subconscious thoughts of that mind. And the ancient tales become valuable for that reason. They reveal the character of the primitive people and the drift of their minds. Such revelations are of intense value because the minds that laid them bare were unbiased and stood in a simplicity which we have not, but which we very much need. We need to return to the methods of the ancients, no matter how wrong perhaps their facts were. The ancients always lived at the source whence springs the pure waters of life; we on the contrary carry on our trades where the rivers flow into the ocean, and are muddy. As a result, our life is muddy, too, and our vision obscured. The strength of the eternal truths is dissipated, and but few find their way home to the spiritual.
In no age, like the present, has so much been done for all that which is human. In our day we are not so much asking about the cosmic and theological as we do about the human. It is searched for everywhere and studied most attentively by the individual and by societies exclusively devoted to it. Anthropology, ethnology, sociology and psychology are practically new sciences, but they dominate all scholarship. They give the keys to the modern university and college courses and they fill the libraries with their learning. I invite your attention to a small fraction of these new sciences to Folklore.
Folklore is a new science and only a small part of the four I have mentioned, but it has a special claim upon attention because it reveals the psychology of the races and nothing can be more important for us than to learn what Mind is and how it works.
Natural science proceeds objectively and gives mind but scant recognition. Folklore goes the other way. It is subjective and starts unconsciously with Protagoras' formula: "Man is the measure of all things." It is ignorant and careless of the facts of science. But this is its marvel. It is obedient to the subconscious of all that mystery which unconsciously rushes into the conscious mind. I am inclined to call folklore, psychology illustrated by images, stories, etc. And if I were to characterize it by a philosophical name from the systems I would sometimes call it idealism, sometimes occultism, sometimes theosophy, according to the special feature I examined for the time being, be they ballads or folksongs, dreams, fairy tales, legends, traditions, or symbols or any other forms.
The most valuable feature of all folklore is, that it is introspective. We, of modern times, are too rationalistic; we have run away too soon from introspection in our anxiety for the worldly benefits which science can give us. The ancients can once more teach us the introspective method; they can do it by means of folklore.
If we would learn from folklore, we must meet these ancient relics of psychology and ethics by a broad feeling and with sympathy, desirous of making the acquaintance of the bards of old and the story telling habit. We must put away all conceit and pretence to scientific knowledge. These remains were produced by child-like minds and unsophisticated souls. And they must be met on their own ground. As little as you would ask an African negro to discuss the latest fashion in dress, so little should you ask a prosy mind to explain a fairy tale. It is the method, particularly the method of introspection, that I urge upon the moderns; for that reason I recommend the study of folklore. I do not so much urge the acceptance of results. I full well know in the modern sense how ignorant the originators were. But this is their glory — they obeyed. The first step to freedom is obedience, and it must be learned by all. Why not take a lesson from folklore, charming as it is? Obedience to recognized powers, to a determined will not their own, is a key to past wisdom. When we shall have learned that, we shall have learned the first lesson in wisdom and may proceed to another and higher class in the school of life. But there is no promotion in the school of life before obedience has been learned, because no introspection is possible until all externals have learned to submit. (Of this you may learn further from "Light On the Path," and from "The Voice of the Silence.")
The primitive mind is full of respect for inherited notions. That is good, and, also bad. If it is custom with a race not to sleep with the feet towards the fire, nobody will dare to do it. If it is custom not to eat seal and walrus on the same day nobody will dare to do so. We laugh at that and call it superstition. Yes, very well! But we fail to understand why certain races do it; we forget the psychology of it. The act itself is not important, but by learning obedience to the race-rule, members of the race or tribe are brought to reflection, and by their own reflections they will attain freedom or some form of self-realization and abandon the custom.
In our own boasted civilization we are doing the same thing. We teach the children obedience and respect on numerous subjects of daily life, because according to our own experience we know that sooner or later they will begin to reason about our rules and either accept them as valuable or reject them. Everyone is familiar with the psychology of which I speak. You should not laugh at superstitions, but rather study them and learn the psychology and ethics. These illustrations are arguments for a study of folklore. It is with folklore as with Siegfried and the bird: Siegfried understood the bird only because he had a drop of the dragon's blood upon his tongue. Unless the lore reads itself into us we have no taste for it.
Our age uses figurative speech rather freely; I think too freely; few know the meaning of their own speech. Even poets, who must be supposed to know the character of the figures they use, often speak without sense and in ignorance of the signification of the pictures which they draw. Those who do not know more than the form of such figurative speech as "a face shining like the sun;" the "thirsty ground;" the "angry" ocean; "virtue led him to heaven;" "jovial" wine and "giddy" women; these, I say, do not know the power of speech to lift them above themselves nor have they the key to occult lore which such figures of speech should give them. Back of such figures of speech are the ages, and the minds that phrased them, and the problems which caused men to make such a language.
A study of folklore will help to solve this "why" and "how." I will take one of the figures used: the "thirsty" ground. Primitive man observed that the rain which fell upon the earth was quickly absorbed and the thought of comparing this drawing off of the liquid to his own drinking is so natural that we should be surprised if he had not made the comparison. The inevitable result of the comparison was the thought that the earth was a living being, like himself, endowed with sensibility and volition, and the net result of this reasoning was a mythological conception, that the earth was a being, a being of another order than man, but, nevertheless, of human disposition.
You may reject such personifications, as they may be called and think them childish or unworthy of your consideration. Very well, reject them if you will; but I must ask you a question. Are you sure that you are dealing only with personifications? Can you prove that the earth, the ocean, the sun, the light, darkness, are not in some way beings possessing sensibility and volition? On the contrary, you know that these powers have passions like ourselves, that they obey inherent laws, that they do not trespass upon each others territory, all of which proves an intelligence, not to be denied. These socalled personifications can teach us much; they are of our kind. That teaching is found in folklore, mythology, tales, figures of speech.
Take figures, parables, tales, symbols; examine them to see how far they express your actions, emotions, thoughts or volition, and what else is as yet undiscovered. And then take the ideas discovered to yourself or discard that which you find hurtful or a hindrance to your progress. Deal with folklore wisdom as you would with friend or enemy and you can only gain. As for the fundamentals of the wisdom of life, the greatest teachers of all ages have pointed to immediacy, to virility of manhood, to virginity of heart, as the true sources whence to drink the wisdom of life. Why not do it? Learn from your childlike ancestors! Perhaps these ancestors were yourself. I think they were. Being your own selves, would you refuse to learn and to recover what you once knew, but which for various reasons you at present, have forgotten or covered up by new knowledge? Consider this subject of being your own ancestor, and you shall understand why I urge a study of folklore as the most natural study for you.
Folklore is a sort of kindergarten teaching for grown people. A "pictorial utterance of an idea." The majority of people either can not or will not trouble themselves to find reasons for things, to make plain the obscure, to formulate conceptions. They take what other people give them. They go to the playhouse to get ideas about life and to develop their imaginative and moral powers and judgment. They read novels for the same reasons. There are people who get no other philosophy of life. Their own life is so miserable, monotonous, unimaginative, of no dramatic significance, that they need the illustrations which the stage and the novel furnishes. In other words they go to a kindergarden. Folklore can do as much as the novel and in a limited degree what the stage does.
Let us not deprive these starving souls of the crumbs they get; but let us give them the eternal truths as they are found in folklore, instead of the passing wit and humor of the day and the small truths served in the vaudeville, and instead of all the false show on the stage. Folklore can do more than the novel and the vaudeville. It is really philosophy told in pictures and quite as realistic as any vaudeville, and it is more profound because all folklore is the joint product of ages, while a vaudeville or a novel come from one mind only.
The popular and the primitive mind are both illogical, confused, unable to make differentiations; fashion and ethics blend; science and belief run into each other; myth and history are of equal value; beasts are men and men are beasts. Nowhere does reason keep these apart. Nevertheless, if poplar and primitive minds do mix things, as we mix salads with the diverse other things, it is nevertheless refreshing to speak with a person who has had his or her education in the Open. We may learn wisdom from such a person, a wisdom utterly unknown to scholastics. The same may be said of the ancient myths.
Folklores may be confused in many of their tales, but their method is always right. To be sure, in all running waters they catch the eel on its migration to the sea; the spring-running salmon is also caught because of its migrations. They both run into traps they could avoid, if they had the sense of circumspection as have some human beings. But because the eel and the salmon are caught on their migration it does not prove that their migrating habits are wrong. They are caught by the tricks of men. Their method of life is otherwise correct. Their life method compels them to travel up or down streams, and they obey; hence their method is right and they act correctly in spite of the confusion that comes upon them on their travels. And so with folklore. There is much confusion in it and the primitive mind is caught in many snares that could have been avoided if it had knowledge. Nevertheless, its method of obeying the great Unconscious is always right, because it thereby is true to itself, and such obedience is always righteousness.
Let us learn the method of obedience from folklore; by so doing we shall find the gold-bearing rocks of our own constitution and learn something about the Unconscious in which we root. Who do not know the Cinderella and Snow-white types of tales? And the almost endless variety of the story about Jack, the Giant Killer, some of the very oldest characters in Wonderland. The Eros and Psyche story is immortal; so is the tale about "The land east of the sun and west of the moon." Children never forget the White Bear, nor the "Soaring Lark," nor the "Battle of the Birds." And who has not heard the story of "Jack and the Beanstalk," and about "Alladdin and his wonderful lamp," "Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table," "Brunhilda," "Cerberus," "Medusa," "Circe," "The Wild Huntsman," and numerous other tales? Who has not delighted or shivered by tales of giants, monsters, brownies, dwarfs, fairies, peries, elves, kobolds, the Nis, ogres, pixies, trolls, and the rest of the demonic armies? What are these but nature myths or personifications of forces, that help the good and hinder the bad people?
All these stories will live forever because they teach the common mind mysteries which it can only grasp by feeling; and, they instruct those minds which can not come to wisdom of life by reasoning, but by images only. In them there is that same mind which mused upon them thousands of years before, and which, now, today, is entranced by them. These folkminds reveal that wild and original nature which so few, if any of us, have overcome and transmuted into forces of another world. They have perceptions of truths, but not conceptions. They, too, can lift us up on the Mount of Vision. They do not rouse us to act, it must be admitted. They strengthen us to endure and they quicken us to enjoy, but they furnish no weapons for fight. They rouse an enthusiasm of another world. They lift us, like soaring larks, high in the air of song and make us forget all pettiness and triviality. And that is a great power. It is the power of angels and good spirits. While we listen to them, we do not develop any evils. By rest our best nature recovers lost ground — which is growth in spirituality.
The eternal legends are neglected to our harm. We lose their spiritual magic. They haunt the unfrequented roads of the heart. They lay spells upon favorites only, but they never betray friends. After the spell we remember having been beyond even the singer's hills and, though we can not reproduce them, we lose neither the vision nor the song. Some of them are like the gift bestowed upon a certain prince at his birth. They give us the power to see how the grass grows and to hear how the sun plays upon the harp-strings of time. All that is lost by neglect.
I recommend you to not merely read these tales and become acquainted with them as a mere matter of memory; nay, but to study them and dwell upon them imaginatively and volitionally. Be concerned with them forever. Nobody needs fear to exhaust them and grow weary of them. Most of these tales grow upon you in the proportion in which you love them. They have a self-renewing power that affects not only themselves but you too.
Have you ever thought how it be possible for some nuns and monks in the oratories to repeat daily, hourly, all their life, the same liturgical prayers without wearying and becoming imbeciles? The mystery lies in this: their minds and hearts enlarge in volume and grow in profoundness. Their praying becomes meditation without words, and adoration without sounds. They are translated by the power of their liturgy. And so with these eternal tales that the human race has made. They are throbbing with the same blood as yours, and, their aura carries the aroma of the ages which cradled them. They come to us, like Eve to Adam, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, because they are taken out of us. Meet folklore that way, and you shall have joy and multiply your thoughts and images.
Scientifically, it is incorrect to speak of a sunset. But we do it. Men of science do it. Radicals do it. And I do not think that mankind ever will cease doing it so long as the earth turns around the sun. Our justification for speaking of a sunset, when the sun does not set, is that in the case of a sunset we are not concerned with scientific facts, but with beauty. And so it is with most folklore. No matter if the tales are untrue to history and science and religious creeds. We are not concerned about that. Our relationship is one of poetic charm, pathos, sorrow, yearning of life, epic action, lyric feeling. We may laugh at the machinery so often employed in folklore, of divine intervention, of dreams, supernatural visits, celestial voices and signs, but no matter. We are not worried. The transcendental element gives color, and, mistiness enhances the landscape. If folklore did not throw a spell over us we would never find any wisdom in it, nor learn about love and faith, for the prosaic everyday has no sorcery to attract us. The world of poetry has eternal value.
In Denmark a story is told about the Nis, the Danish brownie. He had troubled a man so long that the man packed his household goods and moved away to another house. All but the last load had gone, and when they were well on the way with that, the Nis popped his head out of a tub and said to the man: "Hello! We are moving, today, I see." And so it is with folklore, it moves with man wherever he goes. It is part and parcel of his household goods. He can not leave it behind any more than he can leave himself behind. Without knowing it and without appreciating it, a method of teaching is provided for him.
Folklore is made even in these days of ours. This is what I heard lately. Said an orthodox brother to his sister: "Why is it that when a man washes his hands in a washbowl he makes it much dirtier than a woman does when she washes her hands?" The answer given was: "She makes less dirt because woman was made out of flesh — of Adam; man makes more dirt because he is made out of clay."
Call it wit, if you like, but the brother told the story in all seriousness and wanted it believed because it furnished evidence for the truth of the Bible story. Poor men, we — when shall we have washed away all the clay?
From your childhood, you remember tales about the Swan-maiden and tales of the class where the hero or heroine is "changed," and usually into an animal. Such tales are famous the world over. From Ovid you may remember how the jealous Juno transformed a nymph to the mere Echo we hear among the mountains. How a nymph to escape the forest god was changed into a reed; and how the god made himself a flute out of it. How another nymph, to escape Apollo, was transformed into a laurel tree. How the beautiful youth Hyacinth, who was accidentlly killed, was changed into the flower that bears his name. These and other tales, such as "Little Red Riding Hood" and the wolf who ate up the poor grandmother, you have all heard. But do you know the philosophy which is hidden in them. There is much to be learned from these "changes" of form. Let us look into the subject of transformation and you shall see.
The idea of transformation, or change of form, appearance, nature and general conditions of life, is very common in mythology, folklore and religion, and even in ordinary life. So is transanimation, or transmigration, or translation from one condition to another. Even transfiguration is not a Christian idea. Nature knows quite commonly of transfusion, or the multiplication with some lower animal. Translation from lower to higher is the key to all spiritual progress, and that the elements are transmutable is now a scientific belief, though the actual transmutation has not been accomplished in some cases. Transmutation or transsubstantiation is a most essential belief in the Roman Catholic ritual. Every idealist can see through matter, however dense it may be. To him it is translucent, and transparency is a fundamental quality of matter. The Christian religion, where properly understood, teaches that its object is to transplant the soul from earthly soil to the divine climate, and that faith will do the transportation. In fact when we come to examine into the popular belief we find that everything has a transient character and that nothing is stable. The popular mind is wiser than the half-sleeping wrangler at the midnight lamp. It is in touch with the movement of life; it knows the short duration of all things; it is aware of the passing of time and the transitoriness of hopes as well as of things. It sees the unstable moment and the fleeting shadows of a reality it never can catch. It sees how the worldly wise are reduced to fools, and it hears the universal echo of the laughter which vibrates through the aeons at man's ignorance and vanity.
There is a proverb which says that fools are the best critics and that our enemies speak the truth. Let us be wise and learn. Let us learn what the popular mind assures us is true wisdom of life; that we may be transformed; that we can transform ourselves; that the unstableness of forms and things is a blessing; that this tendency in all things is the law of all things; that things are only things in the moment we observe them; that in the next moment they are something else; that they are so transitory that the river we think we bathe in is not the same the moment we enter it as the moment we leave it; that, in fact, it is impossible to tell what river we bathed in. Our senses point to some water before us and our imperfect education declares that we bathed in it, but, of course, we know we did not. With this argument ends all philosophy of so-called natural facts. If we continue to argue, we enter metaphysics and then we ask of the materialist: where is your reality? Metaphysics is the highest sphere of folklore. There it is where it belongs and ends.
All these transformations are not imaginings nor idle thoughts, they have their root in that which science calls metamorphism. Metamorphism is a new scientific term for the changes in form or structure which we observe in nature. Specially it signifies the change or rearrangement of the various constituents of rocks, by means of which they assume new forms and combinations. These changes are especially common in sedimentary deposits or such rocks which lie nearest to organic structures and living, moving factors. In the universal world a good example may be found in the ordinary earthly limestone which, under influences, transforms itself into crystalline marble. Metamorphism in geology can not be proved to represent progress, but metamorphism in the organic world is such an alteration of the animal, that when it leaves the egg it is no more an embyro, but an individual and separate form capable of changing or modifying its conditions voluntarily. In other words, by metamorphism it has progressed to a higher condition and power.
The cause of transformations and metamorphisms can not be given by any experimental science, and, physics is silent. The question of causes is to be sought in metaphysics. Metaphysics ascribes transformations and metamorphisms to the inherent restlessness in all created things. All things seek change. The cause of restlessness is a desire for growth, bettering of condition and transmutations to the higher. The circuit of things is one of transformations and each one provides an experience which is added to the foregone. The sum total tends to perfection.
Folklore says nothing on the metaphysical side of the question of transformations. It only tells us about the metamorphoses. Folklore is only picture drawing. Instead of acting a play of life on a stage, it tells us what takes place. It does not reason about cause and effect; neither does the drama we see pass over the stage. We, the spectators, draw the lessons. In thus presenting us with scenes, but no explanations, folklore resembles nature. She, too, merely stages events and leaves us to find out their meaning. Where nature deals with our cosmic relations, folklore deals with our societary relations. Both show the divine drama of life. In this I see a profound reason for studying folklore with as much diligence as we study nature. Sophia, the directing power of life, is equally active in both.
Before I proceed with my subject, let me tell you a story. It is a sort of burlesque folk-tale told in Italy, author unknown, and retold by a Danish poet, Waldemar Thisted. Under the name of Rowell he published a book called "Letters from Hell," a sort of psychological novel. From that I take the following story.
"God had predetermined from all eternity to create man. The Devil also knew from the beginning that such was God's purpose. And God accomplished his design; he created man, and it cost him no trouble at all to furnish him with every perfection, for he simply created him after his own image. On the other hand, it caused the Devil the severest exertions to try to find out how he could best ruin this lovely and precious creation of the Almighty.
"'Now I have it,' said Lucifer to his grandmother, who was sitting in a corner of Hell, knitting. She was knitting snares, and plots, and springs; of course only for her own pleasure, for she could live well enough without doing that. 'Now I have it: I will implant an evil desire in man's mind, so that he will set his heart on what is forbidden, and will find pleasure in disobedience. I will make him a wrong-doer; I will!'
"'Very good, little son; very good!' mumbled his old grandmother; 'but it will not do. Desire can be kept in check, and the Lord God is strong enough to do that.'
"'The deuce!' said the Devil. 'Well, I must think a little more over it.' And he retired into the deepest abyss in Hell; he called it his study. There he sat for a thousand years; his chin resting on his hand, and his glowing eyes incessantly staring out straight before him. He did not notice how time was passing.
"'Now I have it!' he exclaimed, when at the end of a thousand years he came out from his den. 'I will fill man's soul with self-love and self-will. I will blind him, so that he shall only be able to look at what concerns himself. I will make a villain of him, great or small according to circumstances.'
"'Very good, my boy; very good, indeed,' answered his grandmother. But at that moment she dropped a stitch. 'Oh, hold me a brand. So, now I have got it. Very good, my boy; but it will not do. Self-love and self-will can be rooted out, and the Lord God is able to do that.'
"'Confound it,' said Lucifer, 'then I must try again. Now, patience, what is to be, is to be.'
"And off he went again to himself in his den. After the lapse of another thousand years he again emerged, and found his grandmother exactly on the same spot as before, knitting away, and buried in deep thought. She was so old that a thousand years made no difference in her; though perhaps she was just a little trifle more bent, and the claws on her fingers had grown a tiny bit longer.
"'Now, I have it,' said the Devil, with a conceited air of triumph. 'I will take up my abode in man's heart, and will turn everything upside down within him. His nature, and his inclinations, shall be entirely perverted. He shall take falsehood for truth, vice for virtue, ignominy for honor. In a word, I will make him a fool.'
"'It won't do, my lad; it won't do,' answered his grandmother, as she finished a row, and bit off the thread with the only tooth she had remaining. 'There is more than that needed, far more than that. What has once been overturned, can be placed up again; the crooked can be made straight; and the Lord God is able to do it.'
"'I shall soon get tired of it,' growled the Devil. 'This intense studying tells upon one. But it would be foolish to give up half-way.'
"And so he went off once more to his den. Again a thousand years passed, without the almanac, and without anybody knowing what had become of them. Nothing is better than when time passes with as little fuss as possible. When the Devil returned he really did look fagged. His grandmother was seated in her old place; but this time, contrary to custom, her hands were in her lap. Evidently she had been longing after her son. Wit or fool, she had only him.
"'Now, at last, I have it!' exclaimed Lucifer. 'I will make vanity man's second nature. Ape-like, he shall become enamoured of himself, and do all sorts of apish tricks. I will, to speak plainly, make a fool of him. Man shall become the ridicule and laughing-stock of his brother men.'
"'Ho, ho! you have hit it there, my boy,' whined out the old woman, as joy gleamed out of her red, bleared eyes. 'The others were good, too; brilliantly conceived; but they had one failing, they were not innocent enough. However covetous, however perverted man might become, he would constantly feel that there was something amiss; he would lose confidence in himself, and events would teach him caution. Remember conscience! And one can never tell what God in his boundless love may please to do for the miserable race. But with vanity it is quite a different matter. It is a grand discovery. Your part in the world will be a great one, my son. Everything connected with it is so apparently innocent, so unlikely to cause suspicion; for what can be more innocent apparently than to while away the time; to amuse one's self; to be joyful amongst the joyous; beautiful amongst the lovely; to wear fine clothes; to aim after graceful and distinge manners; to have one's natural and acquired accomplishments duly appreciated? Mankind will give itself completely up to vanity; through vanity, lust, self-will and folly will gain the dominion; and in perfect innocence they will travel along the high road to Hell. True enough, the Lord God can do what he pleases; there is no doubt of that. But I was not born yesterday, and for my part I cannot imagine how God ever can interpose to arrest the course of the vain, as with the easiest and securest conscience they go fooling along the road to hell.'
"The old woman had worked herself up into such a pitch of excitement that she had become quite eloquent. She shook in her seat and her joints rattled, so withered was she; and her skin, which seemed of all colors, hung on her in loose folds.
"'I'm proud of you, my lad!' she resumed. 'It is only right that I should do my part in furthering such an excellent plan. When I change my skin I'll make it look so fine for you; it will be so beautiful and soft, and of so lovely color, that it will take every fool's fancy. It will be your business then to force it into the hands of mankind. It will be easy enough to do so. With his apish nature, man will dress himself up in anything, provided it is only singular and rather brilliant. There you will see, Diavolino, what beautiful things will come of it. They will call it the fashion; it will be looked on as the most harmless, the most innocent thing in the world. Ha! hal ha! and it will be neither more nor less after all than my old discarded hide. But it will be a powerful means of nurturing vanity and of making life result in nothingness. But I must go and take a little exercise now, that my skin may slip off all the easier. One gets quite stunted from sitting so long.'
"Lucifer was in ecstacies. 'Per Baccho! he shrieked. 'So! at last then all is right. God may now create his man whenever he pleases!'
"Thereupon he took his old grandmother up on his back, and danced up and down Hell. It tickled her fancy to such a degree that she nearly split herself with laughing. 'Mind my skin,' she cried, 'my boy, mind my skin!'"
Now you have read a folklore opinion about fashion.
The place of the animal in folklore is also interesting. Lucretius tells us that in the beginning of the ages, mankind was a berry-eating race and therefore innocent of blood. In the next age man killed animals, ate their flesh and dressed in their skins. In the third age man domesticated animals. I shall not consider Lucretius' tale as history nor as cosmology, but as psychology, for that is what it is; thus I shall easiest come to my point, to explain one of the places the animals occupy in folklore.
In the first age of our life we all, so to say, live from the fruits of the earth; they are given to us and we as yet know not of conflict. We have as yet not evolved into any self-conflict nor come to battle with an objective world. Whatever antagonism we meet does not become a matter of knowledge or realization; it is merely passing sensation. Our next age, or stage of life, and that is of long duration in most cases, is one of incessant conflicts. Within ourselves we readily discover that we both will and will not; that we both desire and desire not. We do not attain a perfect and final conquest and peace. Outside ourselves conditions are no better, but we learn to avoid these conflicts, if we will. The inside conflicts we find we can not run away from; they must be fought to a finish. But we discover also that in the battles we win, we gain much spoil and the spoil is good for many uses; we may live on the spoil and adorn ourselves with it. In modern language this inside conflict is called the conflict of the soul with propensities. The ancients compared their propensities to animals, which they fought in the chase. The resemblance is indeed very close, if we will only look at them. Under this aspect animals are common in folklore. If you will read Aesop's fables, or any other collection made in imitation of him, you will also see how admirably the animals represent human foolishness. That is another feature of the animals in folklore. Space prevents my giving numerous other details.
The place of the tree in folklore is also interesting. The fundamental idea which we must see clearly before we can understand why the tree can be so important in folklore is its "power of work," to use a technical phrase. Popularly expressed the mystery is this. Through its myriads of small roots and divisions of roots, the plant draws from its environment, the soil, a juice that is both moveable and health and growth giving; the juice is metamorphosed from the inorganic to the organic. We do not know how, but the fact is before us. The plant itself not only lives on that juice, but pushes it up and into fine branches where another metamorphosis is observed; it becomes a flower, and in that flower is a seed. By and by a third metamorphosis occurs. That seed again becomes a tree, which repeats the circle of acts already described. It is this activity that gives the plant its mystic relationship as brother and sister to man. Its activity resembles exactly the assimilating, generative and regenerative process of man. All ages have seen the mystery; hence tree mysticism is known in all ages and is nowadays a very large part of folklore. Tree-lore is very large. I shall have space only for one illustration, that furnished by the Ygdrasill of Norse mythology. This tree is certainly a wonder and evidently was meant for a symbol of the world.
See if you understand it. The tree is said to grow out of heaven, and to furnish bodies for mankind and all organic creation. Its life-giving arms spread through the heavens and it has three roots, each standing in one of the three worlds; one over and into the world of the giants, another over and into Niflheim, the home of mist and fog, a sort of hell. The third extends to the Asas, the gods of light, who dwell in Asgaard, a sort of heaven. Under the root that covers the world of the giants, there is a fountain whence springs wisdom and wit. Odin drank from that fountain and paid for it with one of his bodily eyes. Fine symbolism! Under the root that covers Niflheim lies the serpent Nidhug and all his brood gnawing the root. Again fine symbolism! From hell comes all evils. Under the root over Asaheim is the holy Urdarfountain and here the gods sit daily in judgment. Here dwell also the three fates, Urd, Verdande and Skuld. They keep the world young. Such is the tree itself and clearly a wonderful symbol of the world. Over it and on its top-most bough sits an eagle who knows all. A squirrel is running up and down the branches seeking to create strife between the eagle and Nidhug, the serpent below. Again symbolism and as it seems to me an illustration of the conflict between higher and lower, the dissonance so characteristic of this world order. Four stags feed on the new buds of the branches. What else is this but death, the mysterious balance in the world?
Though folklore very often places man below animals, because these usually are stronger, quicker and more terrible than man, folklore also at times places man higher. An illustration may be taken from Orpheus. According to legend he was son of a king, and Calliope, the muse of eloquence and heroic poetry. He was the first poet and the first inspired singer. So powerful was his harmonies that all men flocked to hear him and wild beasts lay peacefully at his feet; even stones and trees were moved by his play on the seven-stringed lyre. He went with the Argonauts and the sea submitted to his magic music; it was his tunes that plunged the dragon of Colchis into a profound sleep, and thus enabled the Argonauts to carry away the golden fleece. When Orpheus descended to Hades to bring back his wife Eurydice, the rulers of the unseen world submitted to his power and allowed Eurydice to return to earth and he would have rescued her had he not looked back. Who can hear the story and not intuitively guess that it must have a profound meaning, whatever it may be? In general, anybody can see that there is in man or in man's possession a power that can give him control of the world. Orpheus' lyre is a symbol of that power.
The idea of perennial life occupies the folklore mind very much. You know the story about Ponce de Leon's "Spring of Youth" and about the "Green Man" of the mountains and numerous other and similar types. Celebrated among these was the Phoenix type. Heredotus is the first who tells the story, but the idea was thousands of years old when he penned the story after he had heard it from the priests at Heliopolis. The name Phoenix is Greek, to be sure, but the word also means a palmtree, and thereby hangs an occult tale. In whatever form the story comes, Phoenix always symbolizes life as self-renewing. Phoenix is an occult emblem.
As was natural, woman plays a very large part in folklore; even a larger one than man. That comes from the fact that she is a personal and individual expressing of three-fourths or more of the forces that work in nature and in human society and in the emotions of individual man. This will appear at once, when I refer to woman's beauty, blushes, dress, eyes and fickleness; to her love and hate, her tears and tongue and secrets. There is not much to be said about man's beauty and nothing about his blushing. He may dress like a fool, but a fool's dress never charmed like woman's veils or shall I say lack of dress. A man's eyes are not often full of love-madness. No man ever surpassed a woman in love or hate and as for her tears and tongue — well, being a man, I had better not say anything! For these reasons, woman comes so naturally to be one of the main topics and symbols of folklore.
Woman in folklore is as complex as her character. There is no logic in woman, says folklore. That is not a bad habit. It simply means that she has other characteristics. Woman is self-contradictory. That, too, is not a fault. It merely indicates that she follows other standards. They do not pose as learned. That neither is a detriment. Folklore and popular proverbs teach that woman can not be trusted, that they are wily, do not keep friends long, that there is no accounting for a woman's tastes. Women are said to be untruthful and so frail that her chastity is always in question; these and other characteristics are common in popular proverbs and in folk tales.
Before I explain how all these apparently terrible and bad traits are to be understood, I will in common justice also state what good things common proverbs and folklore say about women. In the first place, it is commonly acknowledged that man's happiness and well-being depends entirely upon woman. It is recognized that nature made woman to temper man; that he would have remained a brute without her. It is said that woman is equal to anything. Says a Hindustani proverb: "What can not a woman do? What can not the ocean contain? What can not fire burn? What can not death destroy?" What comparisons, to the ocean, to fire, to death! The beauty loving Greeks used to say that women were the children of the gods. What nobler comparison can anyone make? These and other characteristics are common in popular proverbs and in folklore. A comparison of the two catalogues of vices and virtues just enumerated proves what I said that she is as complex.
Now, is there no unit? Is there any one thought which will explain these apparent opposites and reconcile them? There is. Woman is personified nature — no higher compliment is possible. She is actually all there is in this phenomenal existence. The human language has no other idea or term than nature, when it will speak about living substance, nor can it express nature's evolution any better than in Goethe's immortal phrase, "the eternally-feminine draws us." In that idea and term nature, the opposite characteristics you have heard, are reconciled, for nature is, as experience shows, self-contradictory, fickle and unreliable, as well as our dear mother and lover, our support, and the maker of our happiness as well as of our death. She smiles upon the child's picture in the lake, but betrays it into destruction the moment the child reaches out after the sun's image in the water. What men call chastity is utterly unknown to nature; she cares only for the multiplication table, and by adding desires to desires she proves that she is truthful — true to herself,and she knows no higher ideal. According to that, it is evident that all questions relating to women must be brought before the court where Mother Nature presides. She will pass judgment and explain why her daughters act as they do and she will excuse them all.
There is great wealth of wisdom in proverbs. When the ancient mind and its descendants of today say "God is where he was," it reveals in all its simplicity a truth that a metaphysician would have to labor for a long time to say in his manner of saying it, and he would not say it better. The sentence is a declaration of profound experience and in its directness a model of thought and literary expression. It is both religion and philosophy and comes directly from the subconscious mind. Another way of putting the same thought is the latin sentence, "The sun of all days has not gone down." If we spoke in a similar sententious way, we would not be so prosaic as we are. It is too true, as another proverb says, "Many meet the gods, but few salute them."
Many a fine psychological and cosmological observation lies hid in proverbs. Take this, "The wind is tempered for the shorn lamb." Evidently the early husbandman found that the climate adjusted itself to the time of the shearing of lambs, strangely as it may seem to city people and those ignorant of nature's doings. At any rate, symbolically, the proverb expresses a moral truth. With every cross there comes a blessing or, as another proverb says, "Every cross has its inscription," or meaning. We are never carrying more than one cross at the time. "God never wounds with both hands."
Moral lessons are common in proverb. Here is an example: "Ashes fly back in the face of him who throws them." Experience proves the truth of the literal meaning of the words, and we soon learn that by throwing evil thoughts at another, we soil our own soul more than we harm our adversary.
A Danish proverb teaches, "Make yourself an ass and you will soon have every man's sack on your back." The truth of the teaching is soon learned by anyone who lacks self-respect and the measure of right proportion.
The tale of the cranes of Ibycus leads us into the occult workings of the law of Karma. This is the story. Ibycus, a famous lyrical poet of Greece, was waylaid and murdered by robbers. There were no witnesses but a flight of cranes in the air about the scene. Ibycus called them to witness. Frail witnesses indeed! Yet it so happened that the robbers were present in the theatre shortly after and that a flight of cranes hovered over them and one of the murderers said scoffingly to another, "Lo, there are the avengers of Ibycus!" The remark was overheard. The robbers were caught and confessed the murder. Since then the proverb "The cranes of Ibycus" is equivalent to saying, "Murder will out." Think of it, as we may. Those who neither know or care for the occult workings of karma may not see anything but superstition in the connection of a flight of cranes and a murder discovered, but those who recognize what in Christian theology is called Providence, and in moral philosophy is called the law of compensation, use the story as a most admirable illustration upon the keenness of the mind of the ancients, and as a demonstration of a law that is fundamental in the cosmic and moral economy of the universe.
You are familiar with certain people who always are going to do great things, but never do it. Upon them fits admirably this ancient proverb: "The mountain was in labor but brought forth only a mouse." The sarcasm of this proverb proves the truth of another, "The tongue is not steel, but it cuts."
Church preachers take their illustrations from the Bible. InnerLife people may take theirs from folk or fairy tales. Many of those folk relics are profoundly occult and magnificent elucidations upon the way to walk the Path. The older the fairy tale is, the profounder it is. Its value is also higher when it is no one man's product. Hans Christian Andersen's and Krilof's fairy tales are not folklore. A genuine fairy tale has sprung from the soil of the people and been elaborated by many minds. Many of Andersen's tales are marvelous symbology, but they are his, they have not been produced by the Danish people, nor even suggested by his countrymen. Hence they are not folklore. Most of Grimm's collection contains such fairy tales which have traveled all over the world from the East, and finally in the Middle Ages got the form under which we now know them. They are treasures that ought to be daily reading for beginners on the Path and those who have already traveled far. The various collections of Andrew Lang's are too modern to be folklore and the authors of the tales are mostly all known. But they are of course valuable as symbols.
Take the Psyche and Cupid type of imagery and you see a feminine soul in love with a supreme male, and under training; her fall and redemption through trials. The Melusina type on the other hand is a man in love with a woman of a supernatural race. She consents to live with him if he will not look upon her a certain day in the week. He breaks her command and loses her. The swan-maiden type also relates to men. A man sees her in the bath and steals her charm-dress which lies on the shore, and because of that possession he has command over her. In a moment of his weakness, she recovers her dress and escapes forever. Here, then, are three types illustrating a definite trial which all initiates are put to a trial that consists in obedience to certain conditions on which they may possess a higher being. Disobedience means loss forever and disqualification for initiation.
Folklore is full of hero tales. We hear of Heracles, Thor, Theseus, Sampson, St. George, Jack the Giant Killer. They hold their power on conditions and each one of them represents some phase of the occult life. We read also of spiritual heroes, such as those of the two Holy Grail types. Sir Galahad, the Roman-Catholic form, and Percival, the Protestant hero of the Grail poets. In Tennyson's idyll, Sir Lancelot is the model of fidelity, bravery, frailty in love and repentance. Sir Galahad, the knight of chastity; Sir Gowain, the hero of courtesy, while Sir Kay is a rude, boastful knight, and Sir Modred a type of treachery.
The first Grail king, Titurel, is the type of the ideal knight, noble, pure, tender and chivalrous. He is the founder of the Palace Spiritual and the builder of the temple on Mt. Salvat. The myths of the Holy Grail divide themselves into two groups. Those relating to the cup and its mystic meaning, and those that preserve the mystic gospel of the sangreal. All of this Holy Grail legend is intensely interesting and instructive for those devoting themselves to the Inner Life; and they can throw a light of beauty upon all others outside of the Inner Life.
On Indo Germanic soil we find the Siegfried and Volsung heroes. They arose on Norse ground and the beginnings of their stories are found in the Younger Edda. Wagner's presentations are too modern to belong to the folklore of the North. Get back to the Edda source and you shall see models upon high-born bravery and noble endeavor; types of the Inner Life.
Still another is the Sleeping Beauty type. The story is this. A princess is warned not to touch a certain plant. She touches it out of curiosity and the plant puts her to sleep for many years. She is released from the bondage of sleep by a knight who awakens her by a kiss. The first part resembles the story of Eve in Paradise; the second does not. Adam was no knight. The second part of the story is added by the age of chivalry and contains more mysticism than I can at present explain. The story also resembles the Beauty and the Beast type; such for instance as Apuleius tells the story. In fact the Captive Maiden idea is typical of Wonderland and all the occult.
In conclusion, I will in a few words state the sum total of Neoplatonism. All Neoplatonists lay it down as a law of life that we cannot see an object till we become "similar" to it; that we do not love except there be a certain "sameness" with the beloved. The eye could never have beheld the sun, they say, had it not become sunlike. The mind could never have perceived the beautiful, they teach, had it not first become beautiful itself. Everyone must partake of the divine nature, before he or she can discern the divinely beautiful.
This is Neoplatonic teaching and I want to apply it to the subject of Folklore. Hence I say you shall never understand the primitive mind or your own mind till you become "similar" to it; that is to say, till you put off all assumptions and pretensions of individualism. And not becoming "similar" to your mind or the primitive mind means never to come to your own source of life. Never coming to your own source of life means spiritual death. A powerful help by means of which to come to the primitive mind is folklore.
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