The priests and others, when engaged in acts of piety or important business, took care, when turning, to move to the right. Every Roman avoided repeating words of bad omen. Certain days were reckoned unfortunate for the celebration of marriages. The month of May was thought an unlucky time for marriages being solemnized. The most fortunate time for weddings taking place was in the middle of June.
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The dress of a bride on her marriage day was a long white robe and her face was covered with a veil, in token of her modesty; her hair [Pg 37] was divided with the point of a spear into six locks, and she was crowned with flowers. No marriage was celebrated before recourse to auspices. The nuptial ceremony was performed in the bride's father's house, or in the residence of the nearest relation.
In the evening the bride was conducted to her husband's house, taken thither apparently by force from the arms of her mother or other relative, in memory of the violence used to the Sabine women. Three boys, whose parents were alive, attended her; two of them supported her by the arms, while the third walked before, bearing a flambeau of pine or thorn.
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Maid-servants followed with a distaff and wool, intimating that she was to spin as matrons formerly did. Many relations and friends attended the nuptial procession. The young men repeated jests and made sport as she passed along. The bride bound the door-posts of her new home with woollen fillets, and anointed them with the fat of swine or wolves, to prevent enchantments.
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She was lifted over the threshold, or lightly leaped over it, as it was thought ominous to put her foot upon it, because the threshold was sacred to Vesta, the goddess of virgins. Both she and her husband touched fire and water, as all things were supposed to be produced from these two elements.
With the water their feet were bathed. The husband gave a feast, and musicians attended and sang the nuptial song. After supper the bride was conducted to her bed-chamber by matrons who had been only once married, and laid on her couch, which was covered with flowers; songs were then sung by young women before the chamber door till midnight. Next day another entertainment was given by the husband, when presents were sent to the bride by her friends and relations; and she began her family duties by performing sacred rites.
Great attention was paid to funeral ceremonies. Many people believed that the souls of the unburied were not admitted into the abodes of the dead before they had [Pg 38] wandered about the Styx at least a hundred years. If one happened to discover an unburied body and did not throw earth on it, he was compelled to expiate his crime by sacrificing a hog to Ceres.
When persons were at the point of death, their nearest relation present endeavoured to catch the expiring breath with their mouth, as they believed the soul or living principle went out by the mouth. The nearest relation among the Romans closed the eyes and mouth of the deceased, after putting money into the mouth for the ferryman who was to take the soul of the dead over the lake it had to cross.
A branch of cypress placed at the door where the deceased lay, indicated that there was a dead body within. People were invited to public funerals by a herald. Magistrates and priests were supposed to be violated by seeing a corpse, and therefore the dead were generally buried at night with torch-light. At funeral processions pipers and other musicians attended, and women sang the funeral song or the praises of the deceased to the sound of the flute. By the law of the twelve tables, the number of flute players was restricted to ten.
Next followed actors and buffoons, who danced and sang, while one of them imitated the deceased's words and actions when alive. Before the corpse there were carried the images of the deceased and of his ancestors. The ancients buried their dead at their own houses, whence arose the fear of hobgoblins, and a belief in lares, supposed to be the souls of the deceased.
When the body was laid in the tomb, the people present were sprinkled three times with pure water by the priest, and when the friends returned home they were again sprinkled. Beans, lettuces, bread, eggs, etc. Offerings were made to appease the manes. If a person, falsely reported to have been dead, returned home, he did not enter his house by the door, but went into it through the roof. Dead bodies were [Pg 39] often violated for magical purposes, by stripping them of valuable articles, or cutting off fingers, toes, or arms. Wax images of deceased persons were made, and, after a variety of ridiculous ceremonies, burned on piles, from the tops of which eagles were let loose to convey to heaven the souls set free from the body.
In Ethiopia, superstition was general over the entire empire. The Ethiopians used a sacred bread, called the corban. While this bread was being made, the baker was obliged to repeat seven psalms. Upon every loaf there were twelve impressions of the cross, and each cross was within a square.
Ethiopian monks slept on a mat spread on the ground, and before lying down they stretched out their hands one hundred and fifty times in the form of a cross. Baptism was understood by the people of this empire to be a solemn ceremony that washed away all impurities; but the rite was observed by nearly all the ancient nations, in memory of the Deluge. Each heathen Indian tribe had a separate god. Some tribes even worshipped boiled rice; after the same manner the Egyptians paid homage to leeks. Indian writers say that, in the beginning, a woman, whose name was Paraxacti brought into existence by the great Creator , had three sons,—the first named Bruma, who came into life with five heads.
He was endowed with the power of creating all inferior beings. The name of the second was Vixnu, appointed lord of providence and preserver of all things formed by Bruma. The third was named Rutrem, whose function or inclination was to destroy all things his other two brothers had made and preserved. Rutrem, like his brother Bruma, had five heads. Bruma assumed the form of a stag; and, to punish him for a serious crime he committed when in that shape, his brothers and thirty thousand millions of gods punished him by cutting off one of his heads.
According to the notions of Indian heathens, Bruma writes upon the forehead of every child an account of all that shall happen to him in the world. It is reported of Vixnu that he metamorphosed himself at pleasure.
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He first took the form and nature of a fish, and the second form assumed was that of a tortoise. The Indians believed there were seven seas in the world,—one of milk, of so delicious a nature that the gods ate butter made of it.
One day, when the gods wanted to feast on the butter according to custom, they brought to the shore of the milk sea a high mountain of gold, which supported fourteen worlds that composed the universe. The uppermost part of the mountain served for a resting place, and over it was brought an adder of monstrous size, having a hundred heads. The gods made use of this adder as a rope, in order to get at the butter more easily; but while they were attempting to procure the [Pg 41] butter, the giants, who had a continual hatred against the gods, drew the adder on the other side with so much violence that it shook the whole universe, and sunk it so low, that Vixnu, in his tortoise form, placed himself under it and supported it.
Meanwhile the hundred-headed adder, being unable any longer to endure the pain the gods and giants inflicted on him, vomited poison upon the giants, which killed many of them on the spot. Vixnu afterwards assumed the form of a beautiful woman, and such of the giants as remained alive fell in love with the fair being.
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In this guise, he amused the giants till the gods had eaten all the butter. In his third incarnation, Vixnu changed himself into the form of a hog, in consequence of the following circumstance:—One day a contest arose between the three gods, Bruma, Vixnu, and Rutrem, regarding the extent of their power. Rutrem undertook to go and hide himself, and at the same time promised to submit himself to him who should first discover his head and feet; but if they could not find these parts, then the baffled gods were to acknowledge him their superior.
Bruma and Vixnu having agreed to this proposal, Rutrem vanished, and hid his head and feet in places a great distance from each other, where he imagined they could not be found. Bruma, in the likeness of a swan, commenced to search for the head, but, finding he could not obtain any trace of it, he resolved to return home. Just, however, as he was going to give up the search, he met the thistle flower, which came and saluted him, and showed the place where Rutrem had hid his head.
Rutrem, exasperated, cursed the flower, and forbade it ever to enter his presence. For this reason, his followers prevented thistles being brought into their temples in any part of the East Indies.
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For the purpose of finding the feet, Vixnu transformed himself into a hog, and went from place to place digging into the earth, but without success. For cogent reasons, [Pg 42] Vixnu next assumed the form of a man and lion at the same time. Rutrem, it appears, conceived a strong friendship for one Iranien, a mighty giant, and granted him the privilege that no one should kill him either by day or by night.
Instead of the giant proving grateful, he became proud and overbearing, and even insisted on being worshipped as a god. To punish the giant, Vixnu suddenly appeared before him in the form of a cloud, and then, taking the monster shape of a being half-man half-lion, resolved to take vengeance on the ungrateful wretch. In the evening, when Iranien was standing at the threshold of his door, Vixnu sprang at him, tore him to pieces, and drank his blood.
But the blood affected Vixnu so much that he became stupid. Vixnu's fifth transformation was into a dwarf. At that time a cruel king's subjects appealed to Vixnu to relieve them of their oppressor, and, to carry out the people's desire, he, in the form of a dwarf, went to the city where the tyrant kept court. The dwarf begged from the king a grant of three feet of ground whereon to build himself a house. The tyrant was about to comply with the request, when the morning star, which attended the king in the character of secretary of state, suspected there was treason in the case.
It was common, when requests were granted, for the king to take water into his mouth and pour some of it into the hand of the suppliant, and therefore the secretary, by the assistance of magic, slipped imperceptibly down the prince's throat, in order to prevent the water being thrown out. The magic had not the desired effect; for the king, finding something in his throat, forced a sharp instrument into it, which put out one of the secretary's eyes, and the water gushed out, ratifying the agreement.
Vixnu changed himself into a monster so large that the whole earth was not sufficient to afford room for his feet. He then said to the king, "You have given me three feet of earth, and yet the whole world can scarcely [Pg 43] contain one of my feet: where am I to place the other? The wretched king, finding himself condemned to such a place of torment, begged pardon and mercy of Vixnu, but all the favour he received was one day's respite every year, to enable him to take part at a particular ceremony, to be observed in commemoration of his own downfall and punishment.
Vixnu's sixth form was that of a white man. He subdued many tyrants, and washed his hands in their blood. In this form he destroyed many giants, and compelled all the apes in the country to attend him. The last form Vixnu assumed was that of a black man, in which likeness his cunning and success were not less marked than when he was disguised in several of his former shapes.