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Dorothy Dingley (Signs before Death).
HISTORY OF MAGIC.
ON MAGIC IN MYTHOLOGY.
As we now have made ourselves acquainted with a number of the historical facts regarding magic amongst the Greeks and Romans, we may be allowed to cast a critical glance backwards on the mythical ground of the same, in order to justify certain assertions made above,-namely, that the Grecian mythology is throughout of a magical character; that in Anthropomorphism the power of nature is symbolised ; that magic reflects itself in the mythology, and in the highest antiquity was a kind of natural philosophy. If the mysteries themselves have remained unsolved riddles, so that we only in a fragmentary and indirect manner can determine the inner proceedings and real nature of them from facts, indications, and signs that have become known, it is clear that all attempts at explanation now must be merely hypothetical. The following hypotheses may, therefore, be allowed, which really spring entirely from the regular basis of mythological facts. Moreover, their probability does not rest on wholly vacillating supports, for they do not lean on invention, but on natural phenomena, which the most ancient mythology has wrapped in symbols, and which in the present times are corroborated by magnetic experiences. VOL. II.
In the first place, the question will require answering, whether mythology be not perhaps a misunderstood natural science, so that at least a great portion of those poetic enigmas may have rested originally on views of natural philosophy. If this were the case, then magic and the healing art under it would be things also to be understood. What evidences are discoverable of magical cures, or the magnetic healing art in mythology ? That would be the second question, the proper subject of the following observations, which many may regard as strange, and for which a convincing evidence may not be producible. In the meantime they touch on many truths which rest on natural philosophy, and are calculated to clear up many dark particulars of physical and spiritual life.
“If any one exerts himself to introduce, through natural science, useful things for common life, he may with prudence calculate confidently on general approbation. But when any one is disposed to regard the new light acquired by natural science as Promethean light, and endeavours to avail himself of it in this sense to light up the dark corners of our planet, truly the matter is not so easy as lighting up a dark mine, that is, with a Davy-lamp; and the experiment is not so readily accomplishable. In the meantime, history shows us, by splendid examples, that the question is not an impossible thing; and it shows, to say the least, little penetration and historical knowledge, when any one pronounces in a light gossiping tone on matters which ought to be calmly weighed, that they are empty and impracticable speculations." —J. S. C. Schweigger, Introduction to Mythology through Natural History, Halle, 1836.
If mythology must be taken literally as it stands, and as it usually is taken, then it is an extraordinary fabulous production, both as to its contents and its origin. To philology it is the perpetual and unravelled knot in which all its fine roots lie hidden, and out of which all the branches and blossoms shoot downwards, in order to sensualise the divine and natural attributes of things. To poetry it is the inexhaustible source whence the imagination draws her images and pictures of the physical and spiritual world. For religion mythology is a chaos, through which still the dimmed rays of the sun of the true knowledge of God, which went down in the deluge, faintly gleam, while she is sensible of a cosmic process at work in it, by which gradually in a mythologic purification the true god-man raises himself
, and comes forth as in sublimation. If, now, we do not look upon mythology as that so easily assigned fact, but seek to penetrate behind that fact itself, and to fathom the origin of things there, we then, probably, shall seize the right clue and arrive at the true issue.
Is mythology an accidental work of an indolent and playful invention, or is it a necessary development of an instinctive law of nature, a half-conscious infantine speech of actuality advancing through the dark labyrinth of spiritual life? Is the fundamental
principle of action the creative imagination, or is it the force of the feelings and of the religious mind which therein symbolises poetical or religious ideas? Are the symbols and signs something springing up accidentally, or an arbitrary work of man; or are they the orginal bearers and interpreters of necessary powers, which are only so far mysterious as we have lost the key to the symbolic explanation of the facts ? In short, take the matter as we may, we cannot by all the known paths arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Spiritual life is invariably only to be comprehended from two sides, the poetic and religious. Shall, then, the knowledge of nature and of spiritual power, which is derived from experience, find no place ? How if we should ascribe to mythology a scientific foundation and substance? How, of what kind, and whence ought the theory and the principle to be looked for?
“ The real contents of mythology are pre-eminently derived from natural history, and the origin of the myths is one of physical symbolic language founded on a natural necessity.” This is perhaps the result of the inquiries of Schweigger in the work referred to, and in his history of the physics of the remotest antiquity, as well as in many treatises in his Year-books of Chemistry and Physics, especially for the
Schweigger has shown that a lost natural philosophy of antiquity was connected with the most important religious opinions, and that it had, through that means, the greatest influence on art and poetry. According to our fundamental