223 MEDIA-LANGUAGE AND RELIGION.
The WATER was also sacred. The swift-flowing river or placid lake was defiled with any unclean touch of man. No drop of blood might mingle with the wave, and the laving of human hands left behind the stains of sin. In like manner the bosom of EARTH was holy. To profane the sacred soil was solemnly interdicted. No corpse might repose therein, nor any draft be thrown upon the divine ground. Likewise was the AIR adored and propitiated with offerings.
All the ceremonial of the Magian faith was conducted by the priests. The sons of Levi had not more exclusive jurisdiction over the altars of Israel than did the Magi over those on which were kindled the sacred fires of the East. Nor was the Magus himself unlike the Levitical priest. In person and apparel the two impressed the beholder as belonging to the same class of hierarchs. Both were members of a caste. Both inherited the priestly office from their fathers. Both exhibited a lofty manner and solemn air caught from the severe and lofty conceptions of their respective systems. The Magus wore a white robe and a stately miter, from which, on either side, depended a lappet, whereby the sides of the face were concealed. He bore in his hand a bundle of tamarisk twigs-the sacred emblem of his sacerdotal and prophetical office. By him thus clad and exalted in the eyes of the multitude the sacrifices were prepared and offered, and the libations of milk and honey poured forth before the fires of the altar. Before him even the king and the noble stood with humble tokens of reverence, while the common worshiper looked up awe-struck and trembling.
A strange practical question in the Median system of belief was the post-mortem disposition of human bodies. The dead might not be burned, for by that method the sacred fire would be defiled. Nor might a corpse be buried in the ground or consigned to the river, for in that case the one or the other of the elements would be polluted. Likewise to leave the body to be gradually resolved by the slow action of the atmosphere was a profanation of the fourth object of worship. The last, however, seemed to be the least appalling profanation of the sacred elements, and was accordingly sometimes adopted. But a more general way was to expose the dead to be devoured by beasts and birds of prey; and this method is still followed by the GUEBRES of Persia and India. Round towers, called the Towers of Silence, and built according to a pattern prescribed in the Zendavesta, are erected at various points, and on the tops of these circular towers, doorless and windowless, are set a kind of hoppers constructed of iron grates. Into these the bodies of the dead are thrown, and when the vultures and crows have stripped the skeleton bare and torn away the tendons, the bones drop through the grating into the enclosed space of the tower. The revolting features of this method, however, prevented its universal adoption at any period of Median history. As a kind of compromise between the humanity of the people and the rigor of the priests another plan was substituted, which consisted in covering the bodies of the dead with a layer of wax, so as to prevent contact with, and consequent defilement of, the earth.
The Magi claimed to have the gift of divination and prophecy. The bundle of tamarisk rods which they bore about with them was the symbol and means of their prophetic powers. The superstition of a divining agency in the rods seems to have been imbibed from the Scythians, whose priests used bunches of willow wands in ascertaining the things of the future. The soothsayer was a popular character and was much sought after.
Practically considered, the most valuable part of the Magian profession was that in which the priests were engaged in insecticide. The bad animals, the bad reptiles, the bad bugs,- were not all these the work of Ahriman? So the Magus carried with him an instrument for the extermination
I There is little doubt that the absurd water witchery of modern times is traceable to this far-off origin. The water witch of to-day is a lineal descendant of the Scythian Mafus. The forked switch of witch-hazel, has taken the place of the rod of tamarisk, and the frontier conjurer traverses the ground with the same serious face of perfect self- deception which the priest of Media wore a thousand years before the birth of Caesar.