PRIMITIVE worship in all parts of the world is connected with sacred trees and sacred stones. Paradise had its tree of knowledge and the tree of life. The Patriarchs pitched their tents under special groves and worshiped Jehovah without blame. They saw God in nature, yet did not deify nature and were charged over and over not to follow the abominations of those who worshiped under every grove. The Ashera or sacred poles (trees) were connected with idolatrous and orgiastic worship of the Baalim. Egyptologists speak of Osiris as a tree-god with tree-demons and on Babylonian cylinders we find pictures of sacred trees. A lordly oak or elm is so beautiful that our poet, Joyce Kilmer, who gave his life in France, wrote:
A trees whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast.
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray...
Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree."
The account in the Book of Genesis of the Tree of Life together with that of the trees of the River of Life in the book of Revelation find their parody in what Moslems teach concerning the Lotus-tree of Paradise. (See Commentary on Surah 97.) It is said to be at the extremity or on the most elevated spot, in Paradise, and is believed by Moslems to have as many leaves as there are living human beings in the world; and the leaves are said to be inscribed with the names of all those beings; each leaf bearing the name of one person, and that of his father and mother. This tree, Moslems believe, is shaken on the Lailat al Qadr (Night of Destiny) a little after sunset; and when a person is destined to die in the ensuing year, the leaf upon which his name is written, falls off on this occasion; if he is to die very soon his leaf is almost wholly withered, a very small portion only remaining green; if he is to die later on in the year, a larger portion remains green; according to the time he has yet to live, so is the proportion of the part of the leaf yet green. This therefore is a very awful night to the serious and considerate Moslems, who, accordingly, observe it with solemnity and earnest prayer.
A whole world of superstition and tradition is connected with this tree of Paradise and pictures of it are sold as amulets in Cairo. It is also common to find the genealogy of the Prophet Mohammed traced back to Adam and forward to the saints of Islam depicted as a sacred tree. I have seen such pictures hanging for good luck as well as for instruction in mosques at Saigon, Indo-China and in Honan and Singapore. But this is beside our subject.
The special veneration of trees, however, exists in all Moslem lands and has the closest possible resemblance to pagan tree-worship, as we shall see. In pagan belief because of their theory of universal life all weird or abnormal objects are sacred and have special soul-qualities. Trees of unusual size, rocks of peculiar shape, animals with strange deformities, all such things are sacrosanct. A Moslem dares not injure them; to do so would bring down upon himself the wrath of unseen powers.
Of course it is not to be supposed that a Malay peasant is fully aware of the animistic character of his belief. He acts as his ancestors acted before him; he does not reason why. He is satisfied with the fact that a tree has a spirit attached to it; he does not stop to enquire whether that spirit is the soul of the tree or merely a ghost that has taken up its abode in the tree; all he is certain about is that some unseen power is connected with the tree."1
In West Africa tree-worship is common among the pagans and such trees are famous haunts of spirits. Large, prominent trees are inhabited by spirits. "Many trees in the equatorial West Africa forest throw out from their trunks," says Nassau, "at from ten to sixteen feet from the ground, solid buttresses continuous with the body of the tree itself, only a few inches in thickness, but in width at the base of the tree from four to six feet. These buttresses are projected toward several opposite points of the compass, as if to resist the force of sudden wind-storms. They are a noticeable forest feature and are commonly seen in the silk-cotton trees. The recesses between them are actually used as lairs by small wild animals. They are supposedly also a favorite home of the spirits."
In Islam the same beliefs and practices exist and go back to Arabian paganism or were adopted by Moslems in their local or national environment and Islamized. The subject was treated by Goldziher in a brief paper translated for the Moslem World (July, 1911, p. 302). Other facts have since come to our notice and all travelers in the Near East witness to the wide prevalence of this superstition. Special veneration to holy trees is offered in Syria, Palestine, and all North Africa. The Bedouins inhabiting the tracts of land traversed by Doughty look upon certain trees and shrubs as manhals, or abodes of angels and demons. To injure such trees or shrubs, to lop their branches, is held dangerous. Misfortune overtakes him who has the foolhardiness to perpetrate such an outrage, and as may be imagined, the Arabs have many delectable stories calculated to win over the skeptic. The holy tree is hung with a variety of buntings and like ornaments. The diseased and maimed of the desert resort to it, offer it a sheep or goat, and besprinkle it with the blood of the sacrificed animal. The flesh is cooked and distributed among the friends present, a portion being left suspended from a branch of the magic tree; and the patient returns tranquil in the faith that the angel will appear in a dream and instruct him with a view to his cure. But again it is the patient only who may sleep in the shades of the sacred tree; to a healthy man the attempt would involve ruin. Professor Sachu's attention was arrested in the rocky land Jabal-ul-Amiri, southeast of Aleppo, by a stunted desiccated thorny tree of a man's height which he beheld hung on all sides with variegated rags. "Stones were heaped around its stem, and all manner of stones, large and small, were placed in the branches. Such a tree, called zarur, is the altar of the desert. When a woman yearns for a child, when a peasant longs for rain, or when he yearns for the restoration to health of his horse or camel he takes a stone and deposits it at the foot of the zarur, or fixes it somewhere between its two branches." Again, on either side of the Jordan religious veneration for sacred trees which has dominated there from times immemorial and which evoked stern Biblical enactments has still perpetuated in unaltered shape. "In no country," says the Rev. M. Mills, "have men greater reverence for trees than in Palestine. There we encounter a considerable number of holy trees, which are hung with pieces of cloth and garments of pilgrims who have journeyed thither to do homage to the trees. We notice on other trees rags for purposes of superstitious enchantments. Many a tree is the resort of evil spirits, but what is more weird, a place abounding in tender oaks is usually dedicated to a species of beings denominated 'Daughters of Jacob.'" Abbé Barges tells of a lotus-tree in the garden of an Arab in Jaffa to which special veneration was offered. From the branches of the tree depended lamps and strips of cloth of a variety of colors. The proprietor, explaining the strange worship, said that the seed of the tree had descended from heaven. That was why it was dedicated to the Prophet who visited the tree from time to time in the shades of the night. All good Mohammedans show the same awe-struck respect for a holy tree. The practice is noticeable in other countries too, where popular worship finds expression in veneration accorded to singular representatives of the vegetable kingdom. Schumacher recording his experiences in Jolan describes how the butmi tree is some times seen standing solitary in the midst of a field shading the final resting-place of a Moslem saint. It receives the distinctive appellation of "fakiri," the indigent, and is so secured from all outside interference, being allowed unchecked to attain to a great height. No Moslem dare break a single one of its branches or even remove a dry twig, for, as the legend has it, no man can ever bend its bough but must call down upon himself the justice of divine vengeance.
Goldziher further states: "We may glance at a few more of the diverse aspects which the cult of trees assumes in Islam. Alongside of immutable heathen forms we come upon such as have been subjected to the moderating influencing of Mohammedanism. An umbrageous tree in Wadi ul-sirar, not far from Mecca, which used to be worshiped in pre-Islamic ages, is adored as the one under which seventy prophets had their umbilical cord severed. (Al-Muwatta II, p. 284; Yakut III, p. 75.) The Abbaside Abd-ul-Samad-ibn-Ali, Governor of Mecca, built a mosque at this place. A sacred tree is either associated with the memory of Mohammed or its shadow covers a Wali's tomb. In the desert the holy tree is adored in all its pagan aspects; in the city the veneration is transferred to a convenient saint. And without such props the heathen cult would certainly have been uprooted. In the mosque of Rabia in Kazwin there was a tree regarded sacred by the vulgar. The Caliph ul-Mutawakkil ordered its destruction 'so that the people may no more fall into temptation.' (Beladhuri, p. 322.) It is imperative among austere Mohammedan environment to find out a dead pious man upon whom to transpose the homage really done to the tree, and when no tomb is forthcoming nigh at hand, the tree itself becomes the recipient of the worship in the shape of the habitation of a Wali. At the corner of a street in Damascus there is an olive tree, to which pilgrimages are made, chiefly by women, among whom it is celebrated as the Holy Lady Olive (Sitti Zaytun). A dervish collects the sacrificial gifts of the pious devotees in whose behalf he offers prayers. The olive was considered an individual with a personal name. Zeytun grew into Zaytun. Morocco actually boasts of a Notre Dame d'Olive in a gigantic tree which is the center of crowded pilgrimages. A masculine counterpart of Lady Zaytun we meet in the Sheikh Abu Zeytun whose mausoleum is situated in Palestine. By an analogous process the Mohammedans have personified a venerable stone column into Sheikh-ul-Amud, or the Reverend Pillar. Objects previously looked up to as sacred continue to be so in Moslem times, only they are connected with some pious man whose existence the worshipers ever are at a loss to establish." So far the investigations of Professor Goldziher. In Yemen the Moslems give the following tradition to explain how the custom arose. I have not been able to trace it to its source. They say that the polytheists of the Koreish used to pay high honor to sacred trees and accept good and ill from their influences. They used to drive nails into the trees and hang bits of their clothing upon them, but when Islam came this practice was forbidden to the extent that one day when Omar-ibn-el-Khatab saw certain people going to a particular tree mentioned in the Koran where the oath of allegiance to the Prophet was taken by the Companions, he greatly feared that the people would go back to idolatry and sent some one to cut down the tree and it was cut down. This clearly shows that whatever tree worship persists in Arabia it is due to pre-Islamic practice and is admittedly contrary to their own conception of the demands of pure theism. Yet in spite of this tradition and the loud assertion in the mosque that Allah is God alone and that all polytheism is of the devil, we find tree-worship almost universal. Sacred trees are very common in Morocco. About twenty miles distant from Mogador there is a large argan tree. Large numbers of Moors visit the spot every year. They hang upon it bits of rag, broken pottery or nails, believing that any of these things have power to unloose the hidden virtue which lies concealed within and which flowing to the donor will make this way prosperous until next visit. While hanging these things upon the tree they give utterance to desires which fill the heart. Moslems in India respect a tree called Brimje which does not bear fruit and the leaves of which are like those of a poplar tree but a little darker. This tree is often planted on their tombs and in mosques; the pilgrims then tie up a strip of cloth on the branches of the tree vowing to untie it on the fulfillment of some desire when they offer a sacrifice.
In Algeria trees become holy and are worshiped because some saint has sat under them or dreamed about them, etc. They partake of the holiness of the saint and of the special virtues belonging to him, such as healing children's illnesses, child-bearing, etc. Strips of material are hung on them as offerings to the saint. These rags then become blessed and are frequently stolen and torn by other worshipers who place the piece in their waist belts or in the folds of their head-dress.
"Anatolia," writes Dr. George E. White, "is emphatically full of sacred trees and groves, each of which usually owes its sanctity to a holy grave, and often is in close proximity to a sacred spring and a sacred stone. Riding through the country one often spies a clump of trees, larger or smaller, on a hill top, or in some valley nook, of which even before inquiring he may be quite sure that they are regarded as sacred. Men fear to cut the wood except for a mosque or a coffin. They believe that if one were to fell a tree or lop off a bough, he would anger the spirit of the place and some 'stroke' would overtake him in consequence. They often say that if one cut the wood it would fly back to the forest before morning. More firmly do they believe that the woodman's house would burn, or some accident befall one or more of the inmates. At Ipejik a visitor told the people that devils would not get them if they cut down the trees. Near Arabkir is a cave beside a holy tree, where cocks are shut up as votive offerings to starve and so propitiate the spirit of the place; the willows are accounted sacred and can heal on Palm Sunday. Near Van the Seer rock and tree cure fever in exchange for the tying of a rag; near Harpout is a thorn-bush nearly buried in stones which cures fever; again a forty branched tree at Goganz rests on a hill top, and is visited by Armenians who have a spring festival there. The Striker tree is feared by both Turks and Armenians, who pray as they pass it, lest some ill -luck overtake them in its vicinity. At St. Sapanz is a tree which no one dares climb; Kurds and Armenians worship there every Sunday. It is remarkable that Kurds should observe the Christian Sabbath in this way, and suggests that they may sometimes have changed their connection from nominal Christianity to nominal Mohammedanism, while remaining really Pagan for the most part all the time. At Agunjik a Kurd shot at a bird on a holy tree, and died eight days (that is a week) afterward. Rushdonienz has a famous walnut tree to which the sick resort, and where they remain in all sorts of weather to offer sacrifices, for at certain times or in certain stages of the weather a peculiar halo surrounds the tree and the sick are then miraculously healed. At Morenik a Sun Pole was burned in 1907 and thousands of nails were found in the ashes, the remains of years of worshipers. This tree was called the Censor, and cured all diseases for Turks or Armenians impartially. They would beat the roots with stones, burn candles before it, cast eggs into the pool hard by, or drive nails into the pole, crying 'from me to you, from you to another' in the hope of thus expelling the disease."
In Kerbela there are trees supposed to belong to 'Ali and other Shiah saints. There are two palm trees near Kerbela under which Mary is believed to have sat when Jesus was born. Women visit these trees, eat the fruit and drink a mixture of the earth and water. Pilgrims carry a collection of hair and tie it on the trees in Kerbela, believing that on the day of resurrection they will have hair the length of the trees. Finger-nails are also tied in a bit of rag to the trees; teeth are washed, wrapped in white cloth and hung on the trees with a little salt, believing that they will keep them pure and whole until they come to claim them on the day of resurrection.
"In Persia," writes Miss Holliday, "I had a cook who found near a village two fine saplings growing from the root of an old tree; as they would be fine for walking sticks he cut them, but was reproved by his host for the night. 'If the village knew they would be very angry. Don't you know these are persons?'" Another incident is given of a tree that had fallen down in a cemetery to which rags were tied, for communion with the spirit of the tree, lights were burnt and offerings made and which had even been walled off as a protection.
The method of communion, the awe of dread consequences to those who injure the tree, and the details of worship are practically the same everywhere.
How trees are regarded and worshiped today in Arabia is related by Doughty (Vol. I, p. 365). "Returning one of those days I went out to cut tent-pegs at the great solitary acacia tree which stands nigh the kella; here the goats and sheep of the garrison lie down at noon after the watering. Clear gum-arabic drops are distilled upon the small boughs; that which oozes from the old stock is pitchy black, bitter to the taste, and they say medicinal: with this are caulked the Arab coasting boats which are built at Wejh. Hither I saw Doolan leading his flock, and waited to ask him for his bill, or else that he would cut down the sticks for me. He answered: 'Wellah, O son of mine uncle, ask me anything else, but in this were mischief for us both. No! I pray thee, break not, Khalil, nor cut so much as a twig of all these branches, thou art not of this country, thou art not aware: Look up! seest thou the cotton shreds and the horns of goats which hang in these boughs, they are of the Beduw, but many fell in the late winds. And seest thou these nails! certain of the Haj knock them into the stem whilst they pray!' As I laid hand anew on a good bough and took my knife, Doolan embraced me. 'No, Khalil, the man who cuts this tree,' he said, 'must die.' 'What is this folly! are you afraid of trees?' 'Ah me! she is possessed by a jinn; be not so foolhardy. Wellah, I tell thee truth, a Beduwy broke but a bough and he died within a while and all his cattle perished. Khalil, the last evening a little girl of the booth that is newly pitched here gathered some of these fallen sticks, for her mother's fire, and as they kindled, by-thy-life! the child's arm stiffened; they carried her immediately into the kella, where Haj Nejm hanged some charms about her, and by the mercy of God the child recovered.'"
And here is a pen-portrait equally pathetic of how a mother with her babe in Turkey seeks help at a holy-tree. The writer, Victoria de Bunsen, has gazed deeply into the soul of a Turk: "As my eyes wandered over the green branches, I saw that low down they were ragged and bare, and all stripped of their leaves. Instead the dry twigs were hung with objects which by much travel had grown familiar to me, the objects one learns to associate with all sacred mysterious places in the East. There were the dirty rags, the wisps of twisted hair, the little strings of beads or common charms all the worthless cast-off things which mean so much to those who cast them off for such a purpose, and are mere rubbish to everybody else. ... I saw a woman stoop to pass beneath them, and she came into the shade. She did not see me, and she need not, for I was close to the tomb, and evidently that was not the object of the visit. Some tall rank weeds and grass trees hid me from her sight, though I could still watch her. The woman I watched was tall and young. She wore the blue loose dress of the Lebanon women and the long coarse white veil. In her arms she carried a baby. She came swiftly and with decision in her movements. There was trouble in her face and great perplexity, but there was no doubt of the reason she had come to the tree. Kneeling down on the ground she unwinds the baby from its long thick wrappings and lays it on the ground beside her. I cannot see its face but it must be very little and weak, for I can hear its wailing cry, and it is feeble and struggling. When the swaddling clothes are loosened, the wailing ceases for a minute and I see one tiny toe kick weakly in the air. ... While the baby lies there on the ground and feebly stretches its wasted limbs I watch with anxious sympathy, this last attempt to save the life that means so much. The baby still wears a ragged little cotton shirt under the swaddling bands, and from this the mother carefully tears a rag. Then, rising, she scans anxiously the dry, leaf-stripped branches around her. She holds the polluted discolored thing - the holy thing - the little rag in her hand. All the fever and the pain and the weakness of her child is concentrated and bound up in that rag. For her was the duty of bringing that concentrated evil that heavy-laden rag into contact with the holy, life-giving tree. The rag must be bound to it, cast off upon its branches. Choosing the place the woman fastens the rag to a branch with steady deliberate fingers, and then sits down again by her baby and contemplates it dangling from a twig. Who shall say what hope, what agony of suspense, fills her troubled mind?"2
Stone- as well as tree-worship persists in Islam and Mohammed himself sanctioned it when in destroying all the idols of the Ka'aba he spared the Black-stone and left it in its place of honor, an object of adoration. The Meccans before Islam used to carry with them on their journeys pieces of stone from the Ka'aba, and paid reverence to them because they came from the Haram or Holy Temple. Herodotus mentions the use of seven stones by the Arabs when taking solemn oaths. The honor, almost amounting to worship, paid the meteoric Hajuru'l Aswad or Black Stone, is one of the many Islamic customs which have been derived from those of the Arabs who lived long before Mohammed's time. The kiss which the pious Mohammedan pilgrim bestows on it is a survival of the old practice, and was a form of worship in Arabia as in many other lands. The various gods of the ancient Arabs were represented by images or stones. It is interesting to know that some of these are still preserved as witness to Mohammed's triumph over idolatry. Doughty says: "On the morrow I went to visit the three idol-stones that are shown at Tayif-El-'Uzza, which I had seen in the small (butchers') market place. It is some twenty feet long; near the end upon the upper side is a hollowness which they call makam er-ras, the head place; and this, say they, was the mouth of the oracle. Another and smaller stone, which lay upon a rising-ground, before the door of the chief gunner, they call el-Hubbal: this also is a wild granite block, five or six feet long and cleft in the midst 'by a sword-stroke of our lord Aly.'" ... "A little without the gate we came to the third reputed bethel-stone. This they name el-Lata (which is Venus of the Arabs, says Herodotus): it is an unshapely crag; in length nearly as the 'Uzza, but less in height, and of the same gray granite." (Vol. II:515).3 Even to-day among the Shiahs in Bahrein, Arabia, there are ancient stones which are objects of worship because they are supposed to have jinn in them that have the power to come to life. Offerings of food are made to them on Tuesday night and sometimes on Thursdays. The person making the offering always salaams the jinn and after hoping that he may "eat in health" the food is placed on the stone. In the morning the dish is found empty. Women often take a piece of silk for a garment in payment of a vow and leave it on the stone. Each stone seems to have its "seyyida" who is responsible for the removal of the silk, as the women say.
In Tabriz, Persia, there is a large marble tomb-stone before which candles are burnt. When children have whooping cough both Moslem and Christian mothers scrape off some of the marble dust and give it to the children as a cure.
Another form of stone-worship very common throughout the Moslem world is that of raising up stone heaps on sacred places: "In Syria it is a common practice with pious Moslems when they first come in sight of a very sacred place, such as Hebron or the tomb of Moses, to make a little heap of stones or to add a stone to a heap which has been already made. Hence every here and there the traveler passes a whole series of such heaps by the side of the track. In Northern Africa the usage is similar. Cairns are commonly erected on spots from which the devout pilgrim first discerns the shrine of a saint afar off; hence they are generally to be seen on the top of passes. For example, in Morocco, at the point of the road from Casablanca to Azemmour, where you first come in sight of the white city of the saint gleaming in the distance, there rises an enormous cairn of stones shaped like a pyramid several hundreds of feet high, and beyond it on both sides of the road there is a sort of avalanche of stones, either standing singly or arranged in little pyramids. Every pious Mohammedan whose eyes are gladdened by the blessed sight of the sacred towns adds his stone to one of the piles or builds a little pile for himself".4 The custom of passers-by putting stone on a heap is a form of fetish worship. This is clear from what we read concerning the practice in West Africa.
"All day we kept passing trees or rocks," writes Nassau, "on which were placed little heaps of stones or bits of wood; in passing these, each of my men added a new stone or bit of wood, or even a tuft of grass. This is a tribute to the spirits, the general precaution to insure a safe return. These people have a vague sort of Supreme Being called Lesa who has good and evil passions; but here (Plateau of Lake Tanganyika), as everywhere else, the Musimo, or spirits of the ancestors, are a leading feature in the beliefs. They are propitiated, as elsewhere, by placing little heaps of stones about their favorite haunts."5 The stoning of "The Three Devils" at Mecca may be some form of ancestor worship if it is not in memory of the old idols.
We turn finally to Serpent-worship in Islam. Here also we are surprised to find how much animism remains in Moslem lands and lives and literature; all covered of course with the charitable mantle of their creed. The Arabic dictionary gives two hundred names for snakes. As-Suhaili says that when God caused the serpent to come down to the earth, He caused it to alight in Sijistan which is the part of God's earth abounding most in serpents, and that if it were not for the 'Irbadd (the male viper) eating and destroying many of them, Sijistan would (now) have been empty of its people owing to the large number of them (in it).
Ka'b-al-Ahber states that "God caused the serpent to alight in Ispahan, Iblis in Jeddah, Eve on Mount 'Arafah, and Adam on the mountain Sarandib (Ceylon) which is the land of China in the Indian Ocean." The curious may find much on serpent lore in Damiri (Vol.I, p. 631). The most common belief is that serpents are often human beings in the form of snakes. The serpent has a place also in the story of Creation which is given as follows: "Al-Kurtubi relates in the commentary on the XL chapter of the Kuran on the authority of Thawr b. Yazid, who had it from Khalid b. Ma'dan regarding Ka'b al-Ahbar as having said, 'When God created the Throne, it said, 'God has not created anything greater than myself,' and exulted with joy out of pride. God therefore caused it to be surrounded by a serpent having 70,000 wings; each wing having 70,000 feathers in it, each feather having in it 70,000 faces, each face having in it 70,000 mouths, and each mouth having in it 70,000 tongues, with its mouths ejaculating every day praises of God, the number of drops of rain, the number of the leaves of trees, the number of stones and earth, the number of days of this world, and the number of angels, all these numbers of times. The serpent then twisted itself round the Throne which was taken up by only half the serpent while it remained twisted round it. The Throne thereupon became humble."6
The following story is told on the authority of one of the Companions of Mohammed: "We went out on the pilgrimage, and when we reached al-'Ari, we saw a snake quivering, which not long afterwards died. One of the men out of us took out for it a piece of cloth in which he wrapped it up, and then digging a hole buried it in the ground. We then proceeded to Makkah and went to the sacred mosque, where a man came to us and said, 'Which of you is the person that was kind to 'Amer b. Jabir?' Upon which we replied, 'We do not know him.' He then asked, 'Which of you is the person that was kind to the Jann?' and they replied, 'This one here,' upon which he said (to him), 'May God repay you good on our account! As to him (the serpent that was buried) he was the last of the nine genii who had heard the Koran from the lips of the Prophet?'"
In Java the Moslems speak of the holy serpent found in the rice fields which must not be killed. They relate legends in this respect that are undoubtedly of pre-Moslem origin. When the peasant finds such a sacred snake in his fields he takes it home and cares for it in order that the rice fields may have the blessing.
The Shiahs in Bahrein believe serpents are jinn in human forms and they should not be killed. Small ones, however, are killed, placed in the sun with a little salt, and when the flesh is thoroughly dry it is cut up, put in bags and worn as an amulet against the evil eye. Rich people have their amulets placed in gold cases while poor people content themselves with leather bags.
Serpents, lizards and frogs that frequent the marabout buildings in Algeria are supposed to be inhabited by demons subdued by the dead marabout (a holy person) and it is forbidden to kill them on pain of death or subsequent ill luck. The snakes are drawn out of their lairs by the beating of tom-toms while certain Morocco sorcerers are supposed to have the power to bring them out by a few spoken words. On the occasion of an epidemic among the sheep near Reliyane the shepherds threw their sticks under a certain marabout tree and left them there for two or three days, then they made their flocks to pass by that tree, after repeating which two or three times they were healed.
In spite of the fact that Egypt is the intellectual center of Islam many forms of the serpent worship of the ancient Egyptians are still widely found, and in one case it is practiced with the sanction of the Moslem faith.
The superstitious idea that every house has a serpent guardian is pretty general throughout the country, and many families still provide a bowl of milk for their serpent protector, believing that calamity would come upon them if the serpent were neglected. This is undoubtedly a survival of the ancient belief that the serpent was the child of the earth the oldest inhabitant of the land, and guardian of the ground.
The serpent is used very frequently by sorcerers in their incantations, and also in the preparation of medicines and philtres which are used for the cure of physical and emotional disturbances suffered by their clients.
The religious sanction given to serpent worship occurs in the case of Sheikh Heridi whose tomb or shrine, with that of his "wife," is to be seen in the sand-hills of Upper Egypt some distance from the town of Akhmim. Sheikh Heridi is really a serpent supposed to occupy one of the tombs. The birthday festival of this serpent saint takes place during the month following Ramadhan, and lasts about eight days. This festival is attended by crowds of devotees, including large numbers of sailors who encamp about the shrine during the festivities.
At other times pilgrimages on behalf of those suffering from certain ailments are made to come to the tomb. Professor Sayce in an article on the subject published in the Contemporary Review for October, 1893, quotes at length from various travelers who have mentioned this serpent-saint of Islam in their writings.
Professor Sayce then describes in detail the immediate surroundings of the two domed shrines, one of which belongs to the "wife" of the serpent. Near the shrines is a cleft of the rock which was probably the "grotto" inhabited by the "saint" before the shrine was erected.
Sheikh Heridi occupies as high a place in the esteem of the native to-day as he did in the days of Paul Lucas and Norden. His birthday festival is attended by crowds of devout believers. Many stories are still told of the miraculous powers of the Saint, who is declared to be a serpent as "thick as a man's thigh." If treated with irreverence or disrespect, it breathes fire into the face of the offender, who forthwith dies. It is very jealous of its wife's good name; those who show her disrespect are also put to death by the saint. The belief that if the serpent is hacked to pieces each piece will rejoin, still survives, and it is held that any one clever enough to note the place where the blood flowed, would become wealthy, because there he would find gold.
The professor points out that Sheikh Heridi may be regarded as the successor of Agathodaemon the ancient serpent-god of healing. Belief in his miraculous powers is as strong to-day as it was in the days of the Rameses or Ptolemies. At the entrance to the quarry through which pilgrims have to pass on their way to the shrine, Professor Sayce discovered engraved in large Greek letters in the stone the words which, he says, indicate that during the Greek period, the place was sacred, and that a divinity must have been worshiped here. It may be safely assumed that that divinity was none other than the sacred serpent now Sheikh Heridi under another name.
The Influence of Animism on Islam
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