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In the following pages it is assumed that all attempts at decoration, whether of the person in the way of dress, or of pattern, shown by curved lines or other evidence of design, however crude, upon inanimate objects, had in their origin some definite idea or fact which it was intended to illustrate. In other words, no pictorial device of primitive man beyond the simplest straight strokes upon his pottery was simply arbitrary; but however rude in execution, every stroke or figure had a meaning of its own. In fact we believe that generally all attempts at decoration were more or less ideographic, and in support of this belief, it is only necessary here to refer to the familiar example in the writing of Egypt—the wavy line denoting water—and to point out that it is practically the same line so often seen upon a variety of archaic vessels for holding liquid.
Thus when untutored man wished to indicate the sun he drew a circle, and often improved on it by adding radiating strokes like a wheel. When he wanted to indicate the moon he drew or scratched something like a crescent.
In these days, however, when the original idea has been long forgotten, and the decorative item has developed into a very remote likeness to its prototype, it is extremely difficult to trace back the elaborate productions of modern civilisation to their progenitors in the rude devices of our remote forefathers.
The books on Art and its origin are legion, and no attempt will here be made even to touch the fringe of those great subjects. Instead of doing so, and in support of the assumption above made, the reader is referred to The Evolution of Decorative Art, by Henry Balfour, 1893, and to Evolution in Art, by A. C. Haddon (Contemporary Science Series, 1895). On this subject we specially recommend a valuable article in Good Words for September, 1896, by A. E. Farman and G. Clarke Nuttall, entitled "The Lost Soul of Patterns." Many familiar devices are illustrated and accounted for in a most ingenious manner. All these modern writers deal exhaustively and convincingly with this branch of the question, with abundant illustration. We shall hope to show, however, that difficult as is the task of general identification of modern designs with their prototypes among primaeval ones, yet in the vast majority of cases which can certainly be proved to be the survivals of ancient forms, the original picture or object had a very distinctive use, and was worn, or depicted, or sculptured, so as continually to act as a preventive of the ever-dreaded evil against which all magic was primarily directed.
Reasoning then from the known to the unknown, it may, without presumption, be maintained that in their incidence all ornament and all decoration had their ultimate purpose in the supposed prophylactic power of the subject delineated, or perhaps of the object on which the decoration was placed. The ornamentation itself in the first place was intended to help in attracting the eye, and so to divert the first glance from the wearer of the decoration—for the danger was past after that.
All ornament and all disfigurement naturally appeal to the eye alone, and so far as personal decoration is concerned experience convinces us that in every age, whether ancient or modern, the head has among mankind ever been the object of both honour and dishonour; the part on which his taste for ornament has been first displayed. The crown, the distinctive sign of glory, of honour, and of kingly power, or the wreath of victory, just as much as the ashes of mourning and the fool's cap, are placed upon the head, the recognised seat of both intelligence and folly. Besides its manifold use in a literal sense, the head is constantly taken to represent the entire individual. Not only was succour of an enemy declared to be heaping coals of fire on his head, but in many other ways the head is used figuratively in Scripture; while in modern literature its use has grown and developed to a degree quite extraordinary to those who have not examined the recent marshalling of evidence.
Nature has adorned the head of the most familiar of our domestic birds with the crista, that distinguishing excrescence which surely first impressed its form upon the head-gear of ancient Greek heroes; while in later times it gave its name to the figure or device worn upon the helmet of a knight in the days of chivalry, and has thence come down to us as a well-known term in heraldry. The various objects we now call crests were, in the Middle Ages, very differently regarded by those who wore them as compared with what they are to-day. Then they were worn as ensigns of high distinction and honour, and especially of personal prowess, so that their use was restricted to a comparatively few persons of eminence and of martial renown; but in these later times "crests" have become just as common and just as valueless as the paper on which they are stamped; while they are of as little real significance as the modern term "esquire"; until at last they have often sunk to be the mere fanciful and fantastic ornaments of the vulgar, the ignorant, and the nouveau riche.
The origin of crests, however, takes us far behind their name, far behind even the beginnings of the Latin tongue which gave rise to it. The crest usually depicted upon the head of Greek heroes, we see at a glance, is but a conventionalised imitation of the Crista Galli, showing that the idea in their day was precisely the same as that which survived until the Middle Ages, an idea which grew and became so modified, or developed by widespread use and fancy, that at last any distinctive ornament on a knight's head took the name of that appendage, and became his crest.
The head-dress here depicted (Fig. 1) is only one of several similar upon a sarcophagus in the British Museum, recently brought from Clazomenæ, in Asia Minor, and represents a Greek warrior of the seventh century BC. The crest is here so exaggerated as to be even more important and conspicuous than the helmet itself, but we see in it the same type which we recognise as the well-known, conventional one for heroes upon Greek vases. Other special points in this illustration will be referred to later on.
We have here also a rough sketch (Fig. 2) of a Roman cavalry soldier from the engravings of Montfaucon, showing the conventional as well as the composite character of the crest. In the much later classic times to which this crest belongs, we note that it is mounted high over all, even above a protective amulet in the shape of a bird, but we cannot fail to see in it the general form of the same conventional cock's comb which, often so much exaggerated by the Greeks, still continues to ornament the helmet of the modern dragoon, no less than that of the civilian fireman, and is even found somewhat belittled on the less civil policeman. This crest still perpetuates, in the shape of a concrete ornament, the old idea of victory, so graphically expressed in the slang of today, "Cock county," "Cock of the walk," "Cock of the school"; and more figuratively also in the literary cockscomb. We see it, too, in him who by his rank or profession wears a cockade, or a cocked hat, or in one who struts and assumes the victorious air of the ideal cockscomb. We all know the attitude of many a bird during his song, particularly the lark, which has been so well described as the "raising of the ornamental plumes during courtship." The fact that natural instinct prompts birds to erect their crest as a sign of conquest, or at least of challenge, seems to point curiously to the same instinct in mankind, whether savage or cultured—he mounts a plume of feathers or a bunch of hair on his head in token of triumph. For example, in New Guinea a tuft of white feathers is mounted upon the head of the warrior who has killed a man. (While in the press Mr. Seligman has kindly furnished the following interesting details as to Papuan head-gear:—
"Distinctions worn for killing a person:
Sepe—White shell forehead-band.
Karai—White cockatoo plumes worn in the hair.
Bina—Upper mandible of Toucan worn on the head. This is only worn by a man who has taken life in single combat. (Toucan should be hornbill.—C.G.S.)
Tiabe—Plumes of Paradisea Raggiona worn on the head.
Representations of the head of a murdered man or woman, or of their private parts, are often carved on clubs by the murderer.")
The reader is asked here to note the bird's beak to imitate a horn on the head of the victor at Bina.
Compare with the above the cockades, plumes, and other ornaments worn on their heads by all soldiers in full "war paint," whether officers or privates.
Long before the Romans, or even the Greeks, of history, we have shown, elsewhere, a more or less elaborate head adornment to have been the distinguishing mark of the Egyptian gods and goddesses. Just as the kind of crest worn by an armoured knight in days of chivalry was usually intended to denote some trait in his character, some ideal he was pursuing, or to symbolise some event in his career; so in the earlier days of Egyptian history the devices placed upon the heads of deities were the symbols of what were believed to be their distinctive attributes; and we submit with all confidence that it was certainly the survival of the same notion that crested the gods, which caused, in crusading days, the device to be mounted upon a knight's helmet. The notion had of course come down to chivalry, through a long succession of ages, and of peoples, all mounting "crests" upon their fighting men.
Certain ornamental devices worn upon the head, became in course of time identified with certain great offices, civil as well as military, and, without waiting to dwell upon the several steps of the development, it is easy to see how various caps of office or dignity, such, for instance, as the mitre, and, still more, that very composite head-dress we now call a crown, came to be the distinguishing mark of the chief priest, of the victor, and so of the king (the man who can, and the man who kens). In later times, when feudal lords arose, who were really little kings, there was devised for them an inferior badge, a headdress of similar type and intent, but denoting their lesser rule—the coronet.
The greatest of the gods in every mythology have been personifications of the most conspicuous heavenly bodies—the sun and moon. These were the visible sources of life and heat, and, even in the face of Sir Norman Lockyer, we venture to maintain that to them, and not to Sirius, was the highest worship accorded by all nations. One and all looked upon them as living; and, in their chief attributes, they were both regarded mainly as beneficent beings. For our immediate purpose it will be most convenient to confine ourselves to the gods of Egypt and to those of later ages which we can identify with them, for, without going further back, we must start with the premise that so much of the religious systems now existing in Europe as cannot be clearly shown to be primaeval, indigenous (if we may use the word) in the genus homo, has, in a very large measure, descended to us from Egypt, thence passing through the various modifications of Greek and Roman paganism, yet at the same time deeply influenced by much Oriental belief and practice, brought to bear upon and through the Jews.
From this point of view, with all reverence, we look upon Christianity as a great reform, in fact a mighty revolution. [Here Elworthy, as a Christian, holds this prideful but erroneous position.] What was true or valuable in the ancient systems was retained, adapted, and purified; while the grosser part was cast aside [meaning that the arrogation of Pagan beliefs and practices included the rejection of primal connections, nature-based deities, and fertility oriented rites while selecting other aspects the better suited the Church's agenda]. The sun was considered by the ancients as the father, the giver and protector of life. And we cannot fail to see that this notion of generation and protection is well symbolised by the psalmist when he declares "The Lord God is a sun and shield." (Psalm lxxxiv. 11.)
In all ages and by all people we find the sun, however rudely pictured, to be the symbol of the highest divinity; later on we shall show how, in the special device known as the wheel-cross, it has been preserved through long ages of paganism down to the Christianity of to-day, as a sign to denote the might and Godhead of each person of the Blessed Trinity. The moon having been looked upon, at least by the Aryan stock, as the mother of the gods and men, was naturally regarded as the great and beneficent protector of her progeny; consequently, as we should expect, so do we find, that the symbol of her personification is distinguished by the most remarkable of her visible forms, the crescent. [However, it should be noted that in some European cultures, the sun was regarded as a goddess.] This well-known symbol, being placed as a cognisance or crest upon her head, has in all ages denoted the universal, the Celestial Mother, or perhaps rather the type of motherhood, whether known of old as Ishtar, Isis, Artemis, Diana, or, as at present, Madonna.
The crescent upon it, when viewed from the front, gives to the head an appearance of having the horns of a short-horned cow, and from its being so placed upon all moon gods and goddesses, the crescent has got the name of the horned moon. Upon this point enough has been said elsewhere in connection with Hera-Iö, who gave her name to the Bosporus—the passage of the cow. Later on we see that this notion had taken such hold that, instead of the points of a crescent being placed upon the head, we find a natural, realistic treatment: the horns of animals, mostly cows, were placed upon the head, and at last bovine horns themselves, in the concrete (not merely the crescent), became the badge or crest of the moon goddess. Thence it has survived in these Christian days as the symbol of the most compassionate and loving, as well as the most powerful of female beings, of her who in these latter days bears the old-world title Mater Dei. We shall also show that this badge was by no means confined to goddesses in pagan times, but that it distinguished gods as well, and thus explains the expression "Moon gods and goddesses" used above.
Hence, bearing in mind that this godlike crest, at first the emblem only of a powerful deity, came to be looked upon as something in itself that would be effectual; and thus the crescent was considered to be, and was used by men as a protective amulet, thereby becoming a constant appeal for safety to the gods it represented, we submit that in course of time bovine horns, the outcome of the crescent, developed into a special mark of honour and dignity, which men adopted for their own distinction, as well as the symbol of the most potent protectors.
No less a writer than Coleridge (Literary Remains, vol. i. p. 120) says, "No one has yet discovered even a plausible origin for this symbolism as to horns"; but with all deference to so distinguished an author, it is at least suggested that what we have shown to be the distinguishing badge of the highest of the gods, may well have been adopted in times past as the peculiar sign applicable to mark those among men entitled to great distinction. Reflecting, too, that even Roman emperors were deified after their death, it is going but little further to maintain that godlike symbols were applied to them while still living. The real difficulty, which we cannot get over with certainty, is how a badge, which at first appears to have denoted a female, came to be applied to males as well; moreover, as time went on, we find in later Roman days, the symbol when applied to a female, reverted to the primitive crescent, while the development of the horned moon, which had grown into the resemblance of the natural horns of various animals, became applied exclusively to males. It may be remarked, however, that inasmuch as very many of the symbols of classic times came from Egypt, and that the cow had become that of Isis in her form Hathor, so we know that the bulls Apis and Mnevis represented her consort, the supreme god Osiris; and therefore we may take it that on male personages horns typify Osiris, or the sun, while on females they refer to Isis, or the moon. Allowing, too, for the confusion which seems to be inseparable from all mythologies, we see how at least the idea came to Greece and Rome which led to their placing horns upon the head of Zeus-Jupiter, as well as the thunderbolt in his hand. [This idea fails to take into account the fact that horned animals and deities were important elements of southern European culture prior to contact with Egypt.] In The Dawn of Civilisation, pp. 662–3, we see first Ramman, the great god of the Chaldeans, depicted as holding an axe in his hand, while over his head are his symbols, the sun and moon, which seem to have both been attributed to him, inasmuch as we are told that he had acquired in popular belief the powers of both the gods, whom they once separably represented.
Next we see Ramman with the axe in one hand, and the thunderbolt, evidently the same as the classic, in the other, while on his head are two pairs of horns, which again we will conclude to represent the double powers assumed, just as in later times the typical double crown represented rule over upper and lower Egypt. We venture to pursue the analogy further, and to point out that the triple crown always given to the Pope is but the outcome of the self-same idea.
Excerpted from HORNS of HONOR by Frederick Thomas Elworthy. Copyright © 2013 Weiser Books. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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