« PreviousContinue »
and in the centre of a Sthūpa (dāgaba] lately opened in the Madras Presidency this form of cross was found, marked in masonry, at the central place of deposit for relics.' I have already mentioned that Mr. Bell examined a dāgaba at Anurādhapura in which the relic-chamber was in the form of an even cross.' Whatever may be thought of the Accadian ideograph, there can be no doubt that in these instances the function of the cross was to protect the relics, which were human remains, from interference by evil-disposed spirits.
The function of the upright cross in the square or circle which constantly appears among the amulets and ornaments of the Neolithic and later Lake Dwellings, and American Mound Builders, was probably similar. As an auspicious symbol it would be thought to defend its wearer from evil.
Although it may have had a very simple foundation, it is not easy in these days to comprehend the primitive reasoning according to which the upright cross came to acquire its peculiarly propitious character. An illustration of the early belief in its defensive properties occurs in the Atharva Veda, iii, 12 (Bloomfield's translation), in which on the erection of a dwelling it is the Cross Beam of the house, and not, as might be expected, the central post on which the roof rests, that is prayed to guard the building, in these words: "Do thou, O Cross Beam, according to regulation ascend the post; do thou, mightily ruling, hold off the enemies." Until the beam is in position the Cross is not present; as the member which completes the protecting emblem it is therefore more important as the defender of the house than the post which supported the roof. The 'enemies' would be chiefly or entirely spiritual foes, of course.
The upright Cross is also carved as an emblem carried by a guardian deity, probably Ayiyanar, the Guardian Forest God, on a pillar at the Jētavana dāgaba at Anuradhapura (Fig. No. 37), and it is the common emblem of the Egyptian gods.
For an elucidation of this belief in the power of the Cross it appears to be necessary to consider the diagram as a symbolical pictograph of a simple idea which would appeal to
the mind of early man. The cross may be described either as four equidistant straight lines radiating from a central point, or, as in the example just given, one straight line laid at a right angle across another straight line. The latter is the simpler and therefore probably earlier notion of it, and also the one that the most obviously aids a solution of the difficulty which appears to me not to overstrain probabilities, although I expressly bring it forward as a tentative explanation.
Although the upright cross forms part of the characters which represent fire, it does not appear that the sacred fire of the Assyrians was obtained by means of the transverse friction described in the chapter on the Modern Vaeddas. The statue of the Fire-god of Assyria, Gibil, shows him holding an upright twirling-stick which he is turning with his hands, like the Vaeddas. In India, also, the sacred fire is obtained with the twirling-stick and not by cross friction.
Thus although some part of the auspicious character of the upright cross is probably due to its being a representation of the two sticks used in primitive times for causing fire by transverse friction, the various meanings to express which this symbol is employed seem to show that some other additional interpretation must be found for it.
Remembering that in Egyptian and Assyrian drawings an oblong with ripples marked on it represents a pool of water, or if open at the ends, a river; and that in Accadian, a horizontal oblong with two wedges inside it, one behind the other, pointing to the right, signifies running water, I suggest that it is within the bounds of possibility that, as one meaning of the Cross, one bar originally symbolised a river, and afterwards any other obstruction in a person's path, while the transverse bar typified a successful crossing of it. It will be noticed that in Accadian and Assyrian' to cross' is actually one of the meanings of the upright cross in the square. The Cross might thus eventually come to typify success in overcoming obstacles in general. s all obstacles or dangers were, and are still by many persons, believed to be due to the unfavourable actions of evil spirits, the Cross would in
that case indicate a general freedom from the interference of all such opposing evil influences.
If some notion of this kind was idealised in the upright Cross it may explain the adoption of it as a suitable emblem for the Gods, and as a symbol of life—that is, of continued existence, and not of generation, or the calling of new life into being-the cessation of life being due only to evil magic or the influence of evil powers, the action of which would be prevented by it, through its being a powerful auspicious emblem.
The early Indian Aryans were acquainted with the same metaphor as illustrating a successful overcoming of obstacles, whether physical, or mental, or spiritual. In the Rig Veda, Book i, hymn 99, 1 (Translation by Griffiths), the hymn runs : May Agni carry us through all our troubles, through grief as in a boat across a river.' This takes the idea back to the
third millennium B.C.
In Book ix, hymn 73, 1, it is stated,' that Asura has formed, to seize, three lofty heights. The ships of truth have borne the pious man across.'
The author of one of the hymns of the Atharva Veda (Bloomfield's Translation, viii, 2, 9; p. 56) seems to have had the Cross in the square or circle in his mind when he composed the verse" The missile of the Gods shall pass thee by. I pass thee across the mist (of death); from death I have rescued thee. Removing far the flesh-devouring Agni, a barrier do I set around thee that thou mayest live." That is, as the mystical Cross is protected by its enclosing line, so shall the patient's life be preserved by the barrier against evil influences raised by the magical virtues of the incantation. In this case one bar of the Cross might typify the 'misty road' of death (v. 10), and the other the safe passage across it.
Sir F. Max Müller said of Buddhist teaching that 'the very definition of virtue was that it helped man to cross over to the other shore.' 1
1 Chips from a German Workshop, Vol. i, p. 248.
If such metaphors as these were to be rendered ideographically in the simplest manner by a mystical diagram, the design would almost necessarily adopt the form of either one or two straight lines crossed by another line which would indicate the track taken by the person.
In Cheiromancy, an Eastern art, we find an actual example of a journey represented by a single line. A single line round the base of the thumb typifies the owner's journey through life, and breaks in it or lines across it indicate obstacles or dangers encountered or overcome on the way.
The theory regarding the action of magic which is adhered to by Sinhalese magicians, although far from agreeing with the opinions of many European authorities of the present day, appears to correctly preserve the primitive ideas on the subject, if we may judge by the notions current in Early Egypt,1 Western Africa, Australia, and China. According to it, injurious magic does not perform, and cannot possibly in any way perform the required acts of itself, but is merely the authorisation, or some say-as in Egypt and China,®the command, issued to malevolent spirits to intervene in the manner desired by the magician. The position is defined in terms which nearly coincide with the Sinhalese ideas, in one of Asvaghosha's sermons as translated in Beal's Buddhist Literature in China, p. 110:—
'Because of lust and anger and ignorance
And with them hurt the world,
And do deeds of mischief everywhere.'
It is evident that, conversely, beneficial magic must act
1 Dr. Budge. Egyptian Magic.
2 Dr. Nassau. Fetishism in West Africa; Baudin. Fetichism and Fetich Worshippers.
3 Dr. Howitt. The Native Tribes of South-east Australia. Spencer and Gillen. The Native Tribes of Central Australia.
4 Dr. de Groot. The Religious System of China.
5 Dr. Budge. Egyptian Magic, p. 4.
6 Dr. de Groot, op. cit. Vol. v, p. 917.
in a similar manner, through its influence over benevolent spirits, in addition to its own inherent protective action in some cases, owing to its power of repelling evil spirits. Thus the Cross, being continually a powerful beneficial and protective symbol, becomes the permanent dwelling of a favourable spirit, exactly like the fetish amulets of Africa. Its Egyptian and Accadian meaning 'to dwell' may possibly have some connection with this belief.
Like the later magical circle, the enclosing line round the Cross would be thought to guard it from the intrusion of unfavourable spirits, who might neutralise its beneficial qualities. Both benevolent and malevolent spirits have a well-marked partiality for Crosses, and cross-roads are universally supposed to be favourite spirit-haunts. In West Africa I learnt from the Jõlas of the Gambia Valley that the treatment for some diseases is only effective when the medicine is prepared and applied in the middle of a road-crossing. In India, cross-roads are included with the temples of the Gods as auspicious objects, and the Rig Veda (ii, 5, 6) states that Agni stands 'on sure ground where paths are parted.' Buddha specially pointed out that such places are suitable sites for the erection of dāgabas. Of course the relics deposited in them would there receive the protection of favourable spirits. This will explain why it was usual to make four (or at any rate three) entrances to the enclosures in which the early dagabas were erected; by their construction the edifices became situated at cross-roads. To what extent the guardian spirits are thought to defend such structures may be judged by the general belief in Ceylon that any persons who break into one unlawfully will certainly die within a year. Several instances of such deaths have been related to me.
Notwithstanding the opinions which several learned authors have expressed on the subject, I am unable to feel satisfied
1 As when their names, or, as in the Kalevala, their origins, are
mentioned. Compare also Rig Veda, i, 156, v. 2, 3.
2 S.B.E., Vol. ii, The Sacred Laws of the Aryas, p. 223.
3 S.B.E., Vol. xi, Buddhist Suttas (Davids), pp. 93 and 125. See also The Jataka, No. 418, Vol. iii, p. 260.