Art. XXXIII.—Maori Spirals and Sun-worship.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 11th July, 1899.]
In calling attention to the subject of sun-worship, the great difficulty that arises is not from want of material, but from the vast array of expert evidence, and the enormous range over which the erudition of modern scholars inquiring in this direction has extended. In one branch of the inquiry alone—viz., the meaning of the swastika cross—a huge pile of books and pamphlets has accumulated, and to wade through all the
examples, the statements, and the speculations would entail very prolonged study, and need a diligent as well as a clear brain to escape utter confusion of memory. The process, however, even if nothing else came of it, would be very useful to those who, living in a narrow little world of their own interests, have no idea of the great rivers of thought that, unknown to them, are in far-off and little-known places bearing day and night their tribute to the ocean of human knowledge. Only one of these rivers—nay, a stream—can be approached in this paper, but my writing may tend to show not only how little I know, but also how little any other man knows about things close to us and regarded as common and devoid of interest.
My paper will therefore be contracted into such an inquiry into sun-worship as may be conducted along lines pointed out by the swastika cross. Although this sign may be only one of the numerous symbols used in the ancient world, it has this royal pre-eminence: that it is at once the oldest and the most widely spread of all such characters. I have alluded to the large bibliography that would contain the names of all books dealing with this cross, and I will try not to weary with long quotations or too many references. I may briefly state that it was known almost universally in the ancient world under some of its many forms. In seven-times-buried Troy, in Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, India, China, Korea, Japan, and the Americas, over three-fifths of the inhabited earth's surface the swastika is found in evidence. This curious symbol in its square shape is formed like a Greek cross with a bent arm at each angle, the bends all being made in the same direction. It has many variants, and it is in one of its variants that I shall try to trace its presence in New Zealand. I diverge for a moment by premising that nothing in this paper has anything to do with the use of the cross in the Christian religion. Those who are so ignorant of archæology and ethnology as not to know that the cross was used by great peoples ages before the Christian era need not proceed further, but must begin elsewhere at the ABC of antiquarian research.
Of course, there are many persons whose theories on the subject refuse to admit that the swastika has anything to do with the sun or sun-worship. This denial may be true if the subject is only studied in its modern or comparatively modern phase. There may be nothing in the swastika as employed to-day by Buddhists or Brahmins to show connection on their part with sun-worship; but we have to deal with the study of origins, and try to find out what was the early meaning of the sign. Some writers, for instance, insist that the swastika was a representation of the Aryan fire-drill,
whereby fire was made by the friction of wood, the drill working vertically on the centre of the flat cross, which was held down at its angles. I believe this to be true, but it was only a later and subsidiary use of the sign—nay, probably the fire-drill itself was purposely made in the shape of the swastika, because fire is the child of the great solar fire-giver. Others think that the swastika cross, like the tau cross and the ankh cross of the Egyptians, was a symbol of reproduction and generation. This also may be true as a late phase, if we consider the ideas associated with the production of fire by friction of wood among all barbaric and therefore poetic peoples. It is unnecessary to detail or attempt here to refute the many theories; it will be sufficient to briefly state what a few writers of authority have stated as to the connection between the swastika and sun-worship. R. P. Greg* says that the swastika was adopted as a solar symbol in Greece, and converted later, about B.C. 650, into the meander or key pattern. Professor Goodyear† writes, “The solar significance of the swastika is proven by the Hindu coins of the Jains.” He adds that it is an equivalent of the Egyptian lotus and of the spiral scroll and the Greek key pattern. Birdwood‡ states, “I believe the swastika to be the origin of the key-pattern ornament of Greek and Chinese decorative art.” Without further quotation, I may affirm that such authorities as Count Goblet d'Alviella, Ludwig Müller, Percy Gardner, S. Beal, Edward Thomas, Professor F. Max Müller, H. Gardoz, and Dr. Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, all admit that the swastika is a symbol of the sun or sun-worship. Even the sun-worshippers among the North American Indians wear the swastikas on their ceremonial dress, and these signs appear on the mythological charts drawn on the floors of the Sun-lodge.§
I think, then, that with the opinion of these authorities in its favour we may very well consider the primary connection of sun and swastika as a fairly tenable hypothesis. A far more certain and positive statement, borne out by evidence obtained among men who use the swastika to-day, is that it was used for centuries, and is still considered a sign of “good luck.” Professor Max Müller, the profound Orientalist, says that the word “swastika” bears the meaning of “an auspicious mark.” “In the footprints of Buddha the Buddhists recognise no less than sixty-five auspicious signs, the first of them being the swastika.”∥
[Footnote] * “Archæologia,” xivii., pt. i., p. 159.
[Footnote] † “The Grammar of the Lotus,” p. 354.
[Footnote] ‡ “Industrial Arts of India,” p. 107.
[Footnote] § Smithsonian Report, 1894, p. 895.
[Footnote] ∥ Professor Max Müller in his contribution to Dr. Schliemann's “Ilios,” pp. 347, 348.
The “Cyclopædia of India,” dealing with the subject of the swastika, adds that the etymology of the word means “Be it well!” and with this General Cunningham* agrees. Professor Monier Williams, in his Sanscrit dictionary, says that svastika is “a kind of mystical mark made on persons or things to denote good luck,” and derives it from svasti, “welfare, blessing.” Burnouf writes,† “It was used among the Brahmins from all antiquity. Swastika, or swasta, in India corresponds to “benediction” among Christians. The same author, in the “Lotus de la Bonne Loi” (Appendix), says, “The sign of the swastika was not less known to the Brahmins than to the Buddhists. Most of the inscriptions on the Buddhist caverns in western India are either preceded or followed by the holy (sacramentelle) sign of the swastika.” Mr. W. Crooke‡ writes, “The mystical emblem of the swastika, which appears to represent the sun in its journey through the heavens, is of constant occurrence. The trader paints it on the fly-leaf of his ledger; he who has young children or animals liable to the evil eye makes a representation of it on the wall beside his door-post. It holds first place among the lucky marks of the Jains,” &c.
The swastika sign is used as one of the pictograms of the Chinese, and means “long life,” “many years”; but this was probably not the original signification, as the Empress Wu of the Tang Dynasty (684–704 a.d.) decreed that the sign for the sun should be a swastika in a circle. This is the statement of the Chinese Minister Yang Yu to Mr. Wilson, but it is confirmed by Professor G. F. Wright. To leave the East and go to Great Britain, where we should hardly expect to find it in use, I will quote Mr. J. B. Waring,§ who says “It may be seen upon the bells of many of our parish churches, as at Appleby, Maxborough, Hathersaye, Waddington, Bishop's Norton, West Barkwith, and other places, where it was placed as a magical sign to subdue the vicious spirit of the tempest.” In the discussion before the International Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archæology, 1876, the report of proceedings says, “It seems to have been agreed that the sign (swastika) stood for blessing or good luck,” this relating to runes on an ancient Scandinavian bronze sword. So it appears that it stood for “good luck” even in the age of bronze, a far cry back. Miss Mary Owen, writing concerning ceremonial garters, &c., worn in sun-worship by North
[Footnote] * “Bilsa Topes,” p. 17.
[Footnote] † “Des Sciences et Religion,” p. 256.
[Footnote] ‡ “Introduction to Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India,” p. 58.
[Footnote] § “Ceramic Art in Remote Ages,” p. 13.
American Indians—Iowas, Kickapoos, and other tribes*—states, “The Indians call the swastika the ‘luck,’ or the ‘good luck.’ It is only to be found in beadwork of a kind not now available.”
I think that we may take these records of ancient and modern signification of “good luck” as fair proof that the symbol was used toward off misfortune and bring safety to those using it. So much for the signification, now for illustration of the evolution and development of the elbowed cross.
Its simple form is that of a cross (fig. 1), but its birth took place probably in the circle. Mr. Edward Thomas† writes, “The earliest phase of astronomical science we are at present in position to refer to, with the still extant aid of indigenous diagrams, is the Chaldean. The representation of the sun in this system commences with a simple ring or outline circle, which is speedily advanced toward the impression of onward revolving motion by the insertion of a cross, or four wheel-like spokes, within the circumference of the normal ring.” In figs. 2, 3, and 4 we have this advancing representation, showing the cross swastika on the circular sun. In fig. 5 we have a variant cross—a swastika with spirals; and in fig. 6 the circle is lost, while the curved cross remains. Fig. 7 is another form of the square cross. And here I will draw attention to a point I must further refer to afterwards—viz., the great difficulty of drawing the swastika, whether in curves or squares, if the idea of circular motion is to be kept. If any one doubts this let him try to draw fig. 7 accurately with a freehand style. The next figure (fig. 8) shows the Greek keyboard or meander, but it is the double pattern, the Egyptian, and not the plain Greek. You will notice how the intricate swastika crossing lives in this border. We could be hardly certain that the swastika had anything to do with the plain Greek border if it were not for a beautiful example found on a Greek vase where the simple keyboard reverts at the end of the band into the swastika itself (fig. 9). I have given above instances of the square cross passing into the spiral, and in the next figure (fig. 10) we have a very beautiful illustration of the swastika spirals at their best. It is given by Professor Goodyear, who leads up to it, indeed, by a different path, for he evolves the swastika from the spirals of the lotus, which was a flower sacred to the sun and to solar worship. However, in regard to this ornament on an ancient tomb in Thebes, the professor states directly that this is a swastika cross, and that the central ornament is a lotusflower, an emblem of the sun. The last illustration of the
[Footnote] * Smithsonian Report, 1894, p. 895.
[Footnote] † “History of Art in Chaldea and Assyria,” p. 200.
kind (fig. 11) is the representation of a pottery vase found in Arkansas, United States, in an ancient burial-mound. You will see very distinctly how the four arms of the cross make the double volute, precisely as in the bow-piece of the Maori war-canoe. If the Maori spirals are not swastika, then the figure on the vase is not a swastika, and yet experts distinctly state that the latter is a form of the famous cross.
I do not for a moment contend that the ordinary spiral must necessarily always be a sun-symbol. Such a figure is so easily made, and so easily imitated, that it might become a pattern of barbaric decoration without any religious or mystical meaning in the mind of the artist. The cup-markings which are so widely known, and the concentric circles to be found on the churinga, the soul-sticks of the Australian blacks, are instances in point. They may be symbols of the sun or of a dozen other things; they are so easily made and so ornamental that the mind must be of extreme simplicity that can not only imitate but originate such marks. Conceive, for instance, a savage picking up a forked branch and idly sticking one end of the fork in the ground or in the ashes; he moves the point of the other arm round in a ring, describing a circle. Squeezing the fork slightly, he makes a concentric circle inside the first, and so on. The wonder would be that if it was done once it should not be done again often. The same rule holds good for the spiral. Any one who has rolled up a slip of paper or a ribbon from its end and then lets it go knows how it uncurls in a spiral form, and a savage who did the same with a long flexible leaf or a thin strip of pliant bark would immediately see its value for decoration if he had the slightest taste for carving or painting. Granting, then, that the spiral ornament might have originated independently in a hundred places, that it is not difficult to copy, and that it might symbolize a thousand things, is the same true of the double spiral? Not by any means. The double spiral is not only unlikely to be often invented, but it is an exceedingly difficult figure to draw. Now that I have tried to draw some of them true to scale I am filled with admiration of a native carver who, without my drawing instruments and books of logarithms, can describe such pure and perfect curves. As any mathematician would tell you, a man who could calculate and lay out the lines of the double spiral is one whose knowledge of figures is above the average. Of course, the Maoris had no such knowledge, but their best carvers must have not only had great aptitude for their work, sometimes amounting almost to genius, but they must also have had long and careful training before the eye could fix and the hand delineate these flowing volutes. Such a figure, so difficult and so invariable in its position as a bow ornament, would never have been
chosen and never have been executed without some strong overmastering motive for the design. If the Maori executed with infinite trouble the double spiral of the sun-worshipper, does there not seem to be exceeding probability that he shared the ancient knowledge of the sun-symbol known on every continent of the Old and New Worlds? Another proof of this, though a slight one, is that in the perfect bow-piece under the spirals lies as a support a conventional human figure, stated by the Maoris to be an image of Maui. Maui, the Polynesian hero, was undoubtedly a sun-god; that has been proven and accepted by scholars. The moon (Hina) was his sister, and, like Prometheus, he was the fire-bringer.
Having seen, then, that spirals are connected with the swastika, with a primitive reference to the revolving sun and a later meaning of “good luck,” is there any proof in New Zealand itself that the Maoris were ever sun-worshippers? It would be of little use to show that the natives were in possession of a sun-symbol unless we could learn that it was highly probable that their forefathers knew the meaning of it. The Maoris (or some tribes of them) certainly worshipped the sun. The early missionaries knew little on the subject of the Maori religion, and unintentionally misrepresented the beliefs in the native mind as to the dwellers on Olympus. Inquirers of a different type took up investigation, and to men like Sir George Grey, Mr. John White, Dr. Shortland, Canon Stack, Elsdon Best, S. Percy Smith, and others new light on dark places was revealed. The Polynesian Society in its eight years of existence has also done much to let us understand the spiritual attitude of the ancient Polynesians, and I trust that it will do more.
The author of “The New-Zealanders”* (printed 1830) quotes from Savage in his “Account of New Zealand,” who says, “When paying their adoration to the rising sun the arms are spread and the head bowed, with the appearance of much joy in their countenances, accompanied with a degree of elegant and reverential solemnity, and the song used on the occasion is cheerful.” The author remarks that it is strange that none of their other visitors have remarked this species of idolatry among these savages, but adds, “Yet two New-Zealanders who are now in this country (England) were in the habit of commencing the exhibition of their national customs with the ceremonies practised in their morning devotion to the sun.” This evidence has been ignored, probably because unconfirmed by others not making particular inquiries in this direction, but weight should be given to it as the observation of an exceedingly early visitor to New Zealand, who, if not as
[Footnote] * “Library of Entertaining Knowledge,” p. 232.
good a Maori scholar as those who came after, had the advantage of seeing the natives in a far more primitive state than we can, and knew quite enough of the language to understand whether the Maoris said that they were worshipping the sun or not. It is probable that the practice lingered only among certain tribes, thus the Rev. Mr. Taylor spoke of the worship of the heavenly bodies as being practised at Whanganui,* whilst Mr. John White's legendary account belongs to the South Island. Mr. White, in his “Ancient History of the Maori,”† writes, “Then they selected a hundred and seventy men of their tribe and went to the home of Hapopo, and, having found Niwa-reka there almost alone, one of the party asked, while all the others were silent, ‘Where are the people?’ She answered, ‘They are yonder, out on the plain.’ He asked, ‘What are they doing?’ She answered, ‘They are chanting songs and offering sacrifice to Ra (the sun).’ He asked, ‘For what purpose?’ She answered, 'To suppress the ill-feeling of the people, and to give quiet to the land.'”
The Sun Feast, or Te Hakari, was held annually, and there is a number of perpendicular stones resembling Druidical remains still known by this name (or as Waka-ra) between Kerikeri and Kaitaia.‡ Indeed, it would appear strange if sun-worship, known to exist among other Polynesians, had been unknown to the Maoris. The Easter-Islanders worshipped the sun,§ and the Polynesian colony at Port Moresby, in New Guinea, did so also.∥ At Mangaia Island, near Rarotonga, they speak of Tevake, who “worshipped the red light in the east,”¶ and in Samoa they not only worshipped the sun, but offered up a human sacrifice to that deity every day for eighty days.** Therefore it is probable that if the Maoris used a sunsymbol they did so with a full knowledge (i.e., ancestral knowledge) of its meaning.
Note.—To my deep regret I have here to suppress a part of the paper as read. It described the sun-lodge, &c., in New Zealand, and had a most important bearing on the rest of the monograph. The Maori scholar, however, to whose learning and zeal for investigation my knowledge on the subject was owing, considers that its premature publication would be unfair, and that it would detract from the interest of a work by himself in which he treats upon the subject. Therefore I withdraw this portion of the paper, and can only look forward with other lover of native lore till Mr. C. Nelson gives us the advantage of his studies in his forthcoming book.—E. T.
[Footnote] * “Te Ika a Maui,” p. 99.
[Footnote] † Vol. ii., p. 53.
[Footnote] ‡ White, “Maori Superstitions,” 108.
[Footnote] § “Journal Anthropological Society,” ii., 190.
[Footnote] ∥ “Pioneering in New Guinea,” Chalmers, p.171.
[Footnote] ¶ W. Wyatt Gill, “Savage Life in Polynesia,” p. 31.
[Footnote] ** Turner's “Samoa a Hundred Years Ago,” p. 201.
There have been few attempts hitherto made to explain the meaning of the war-canoe spirals. One writer* says that he was informed by an old Maori that it (the spiral) was copied from the uncurling frond of the mamaku tree-fern. A young frond of this kind is called “pitau,” and so are the canoe spirals in some places. I am inclined to think that the process has been reversed, because “pitau” in its best-known sense means not only the bow-piece, but the whole war-canoe itself—that is, if such war-canoe has a figure-head with a body and arms. Again, the fern-frond is a single spiral, while the carved bow-piece is a double spiral. The skin-mark on the thumb has also been suggested, but I do not know if from any authority.
I have stated in my Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary that the coils of the war-canoe bow-piece were signs or representations of Winiwini, the god of the cobweb. This I did on the personal authority of Mr. John White, author of “The Ancient History of the Maori,” and an erudite Maori scholar, who assured me that this was the fact. If this was so, it is a strong confirmation of the swastika theory, for it was most probable that Winiwini was a swastika cobweb like that drawn by the Chinese as a sign of “good luck.” I present a copy of the Chinese picture (fig. 13), not that it is like a real cobweb, but as a painting of a “good-luck” sign. Whether any spider ever made such a web is exceedingly doubtful, and we must take the account given by the Chinese with a grain of salt, but they relate as follows: “Fung Tse, of the Tang Dynasty, records a practice among the people of Loh-yang to endeavour on the 7th of the seventh month of each year to obtain spiders to weave the swastika on their web. Kung-Ping-Chung, of the Sung Dynasty, says that the people of Loh-yang believe it to be good luck to find the swastika woven by spiders over fruits or melons.”† Not only did the Chinese have this fancy, but it pervaded Indo-European mythology. De Gubernatis, in his “Zoological Mythology,”‡ states that the evening and morning aurora are compared to the spider and the spider's web. “If the sun dies without clouds, if the luminous spider shows itself in the western sky, it augurs for the morrow a fine morning and a fine day.” Here, then, we see for the first time why the solar emblem should have been turned into a sign of “good luck.” It was when the “luminous spider,” the sun without clouds, augured good luck for the morrow. To notice how very ancient the idea is you have only to turn to the Rig-Veda,
[Footnote] * Hamilton, “Maori Art,” pt. i., p. 11, note.
[Footnote] † Smithsonian Report, 1894, p. 800.
[Footnote] ‡ Vol. ii., 162.
the sacred book of the Brahmins, and you will find that the Aurora weaved during the night the robe of her husband, the Sun. One Vedic hymn advises the Aurora not to stretch out her web too far lest it get burnt,* and the Dawn is described as adorning herself for her husband, the Sun, with a display of luminous garments.† The Greeks carried on the myth under the form of Arachne, the weaver who was transformed into a spider, but Arachne is only a variant of Aurora. The cobweb has become a symbol of dawn because in the early morning it has such beauty. Keightley‡ says, “Every lover of nature must have observed and admired the beautiful appearance of the gossamers in the early morning, when covered with dewdrops, which, like prisms, separate the rays of light and shoot the red, blue, yellow, and other colours of the spectrum in brilliant confusion.”
Finally, I would call attention to the antiquity in which this “good-luck” symbol was applied to ships. Bharata is the hero of India after whom the land was called, and after whom the native speaks of it to this hour, as “the Land of Bharata”—i.e., India. In the great poem of the Ramayana that recounts the deeds of his sons we are told§ that when Bharata had to choose a ship to embark in he selected one having the swastika as its symbol. The Ramayana poem was extant (although then unwritten down) five hundred years before the Christian era. If, then, two thousand four hundred years ago ships were afloat in the seas of Asia bearing the sign of the sun-god as an emblem of “good fortune,” is it at all curious that a maritime people like the sun-worshipping Maoris should give their warships a benediction by carving on the bow-piece a symbol known in ancient time all over the world?∥
[Footnote] * “Rig-Veda,” v., 79, 9.
[Footnote] † “Rig-Veda,” i., 134, 4.
[Footnote] ‡ “Fairy Mythology,” Appendix, p. 513.
[Footnote] § “Ramayana,” vol. ii., p. 348, ed. Gorresio.
[Footnote] ∥ I have to acknowledge my indebtedness in this paper to Mr. Thomas Wilson, the learned author of a monograph on the swastika in the report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1894. To him I owe many of the references and examples of forms of the cross. It would be a waste of time for a student in the colonies to attempt to glean after Mr. Wilson in such a field, and so I have drawn upon the intellectual granary he stored up in his paper for inquirers to use, and value in the using.—E. T.