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Vol. 1, No. 6
February 15th, 1888
The author of this article, Gerald Massey, is best known as a British poet, Shakespearean scholar, political theorist, and an author on the topics of Egyptology and Spiritualism. Born on May 29th, 1828 in Tring, Hertforshire, England, he began life as a disadvantaged member of the impoverished working class. Through a program of self-education, he taught himself the craft of writing, and by 1849, when he was 21, he and a compatriot, the radical poet and printer John Bedford Leno, published a magazine called "The Spirit of Freedom, and Working Man's Vindicator," dedicated to the Chartist movement, which advocated for universal male suffrage. (Both men later went on to advocate for female suffrage as well.) After a year of successful publication Leno and Massey parted ways and Massey went on to explore, and to write about, the spiritual side of left-wing and progressive politics.
Massey published numerous books of poetry, for which he is justly celebrated, and he was in turn the model for the character of Felix Holt in George Elliot's 1866 novel, "Felix Holt, the Radical." The plot of this novel centers on the First Reform Act of 1832, which expanded male suffrage in England to include small landowners, tenant farmers, shopkeepers, and householders who paid a yearly rental of #10 or more. Elliot wrote ""Felix Holt" in support of the Second Reform Act of 1867, for which Massey also campaigned, and which for the first time granted male suffrage to urban, working class men in England and Wales.
Massey, in addition to his work as a political activist, had a lifelong interest in the study of spirituality. His first wife, Rosina Jane Knowles, was a noted clairvoyant, who, after the deaths of two of the couple's children, succumbed to depression, alcoholism, and ill health, and died in 1866 at the age of thirty-four. Hiss second wife, Eva Byrn, was a dancing instructor and the daughter of an artist. They married in 1868 and also had children. Massey toured America as a lecturer in 1873 and again in 1884.
Aready influenced by Rosina's mystical faith, Massey became known as a public proponent of Spiritualism. He was a contemporary of the African-American Spiritualist Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825 - 1875), and was certainly aware of Randolph's impact on Spiritualism, as well as Randolph's writings on hoodoo, Abolition, and universal suffrage before and during the American Civil War. He was also a friend of the Britishn Spiritualist medium and author Emma Hardinge Britten (1823 - 1899), another contemporary and friend of Randolph.
Upon discovering the then-new religion of Theosophy, Massey took on that religion's belief in reincarnation, which he saw as a form of Darwinian Spiritualism, in which the rebirth of the soul allows for evolution. Raised a Christian, he also began to investigate the new field of Egyptology, studying firsthand the Egyptian and Assyrian holdings of the British Museum, to which he was drawn in part by an attempt to identify the similarities between ancient Egyptian religious beliefs and those found in Judaism and Christianity. He was elected Chosen Chief of the Most Ancient Order of Druids in 1880, and held that office until 1906 when he resigned due to failing health,
In "A Book of the Beginnings," published in 1881, as well as in "Ancient Egypt: the Light of the World:Ancient Egypt The Light Of The World: A Work Of Reclamation And Restitution" (1907), Massey sought to uncover the origins of the world's mystical symbolism, mythologies, religions, and languages, and in doing so, he became an outspoken proponent of what later became known as the "African Genesis" theory, the idea that Africa was the original birthplace of the human species and human culture. A radical anti-Aryanist, he contended that "Aethiopia and Egypt produced the earliest civilization in the world and it was indigenous" and that "So far as the records of language and mythology can offer us guidance, there is nothing beyond Egypt and Aethiopia but Africa." It was only to be expected that Massey's all-out advocacy of the then-radical belief in humanity's African origins put him at odds with most Victorian anthropologists and historians, but as we now know, more recent genetic studies and archaelogical findings have proven him right after all.
Unlike the founders of Theosophy, such as H. P. Blavatsky, who freely borrowed from Paschal Beverly Randolph's writings while privately treating him with racist contempt, Massey, the working class hero, was equalitarian by nature, and not a racist, and therefore he was able to discuss hoodoo in a scholarly and culturally appreciative manner. His brief exploration of the hoodoo custom of carrying a rabbit's foot for good luck carries the expected Victorian attempt to categorize "the various races" by skin colour ("Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and White"), but it is not without merit, and those who seek to draw parallels between African folk-magic, African-American conjure, and Egyptian antecedents, will find much to enjoy here.
Finally, contemporary readers may need to be reminded that this essay precedes Carl Gustav Jung's theory of the "collective unconscious" by decades and that rather than positing a previously unknown and unsupported psychic link among the minds of people, as Jung did, Massey sought instead to draw together varied cultural beliefs from Asia, Africa, and Europe through the phenomenology of types, and by finding a common denominator of universal observation of the natural world.
From a modern taxonomical perspective, we would call Massey a "lumper," one who seeks to emphasize the shared structural features of a taxonomical set. (The opposite of a "lumper" is a "splitter," one who seeks to emphasize the structural differences between members of a taxonomical set.) Given the rise of identity politics, Massey's "lumperism" might seem dated, or even offensive to some modern eyes, in that it may seem at first glance to discount the individuality of Black culture. However, when this essay was written, in 1888, any form of cultural analysis that placed Black American folk magic on the same playing field with ancient Egyptian and Japanese folk magic would have been highly unusual, to say the least, and would have been welcomed by Black theorists as a sincere attempt to investigate and celebrate Black American culture in an even-handed manner. In fact, Massey's writings on Africa had a direct and gratefully acknowledged influence on Dr. Charles S. Finch III of the Morehouse School of Medicine, whose "Echoes of the Old Dark Land" (1991) and "The Star of Deep Beginnings: Genesis of African Science and Technology" (1998) have had a tremendously positive impact on Afrocentric historiography. Finch's lengthy appreciation, "Nile Genesis: an Introduction to the Opus of Gerald Massey" (2006), is well worth looking up and reading online.
Gerald Massey died on October 29, 1907 at his home in London, England, at the age of 78. Virtually all of his poetic, scholarly, literary, political, and spiritual writings remain in print, both in books and online.
Because this author used terms unfamiliar to modern readers, a few explanatory notes have been added [in brackets].
WARNING: The visual material on this page includes a contemporary racist or
race-derogatory image that may be grossly offensive.
However, the text and the supporting graphic are included in full because they
accurately describe practices and customs of the
African-American South during the 19th century (albeit not
always with complete understanding) -- and they also serve as
a political reminder of how far we have some in our struggle
for race equality and respect in the ensuing years. View
with caution and compassion.
by Gerald Massey
A friend has just informed me of the fact that when President [Grover] Cleveland [1837 - 1908] was making his recent tour through the States an old Negro presented him with the left hind foot of a grave-yard rabbit, which had been killed in the dark of the moon. In making his present the Negro said he had sent it because he desired the reelection of President Cleveland [[to a second tem, in the elecion of 1888]. "Tell him to preserve it carefully, and that as long as he keeps it he will always get there."
[The "Good Luck" postcard shown here was published in 1907, during the flowering of what came to be known as "the postcard craze," when chromolithographically printed cards could be sent anywhere in the United States for one cent in postage. It depicts the then-common knowledge that African American people value the rabbit foot as a lucky charm. This embossed and gilded card, part of a set of six on the topic of "Good Luck," was printed by Fred C. Lounsbury (1857-1917), whose Crescent Embossing Company was founded in 1896 in Plainview, New Jersey. To place the unflattering racist stereotype of the Black hunter with bulging eyes and bright red lips in historical context, it may help to know that Lounsbury had founded his company ten years after Massey's essay was published, and that the postcard itself was issued in the year of Massey's death, during a time when overt racism in America was growing more outspoken, and more ugly in its portrayals of minority American ethnicities and cultures. Lounsbury was not particularly racist for his time period, but by understanding the unacknowledged race-hatred embedded in this penny postcard, we can now see more clearly how very progressive Massey was for his era.]
The friend whom I speak of had just been reading a lecture of mine on "Luniolatry," in which the imagery and significance of the hare and rabbit in the moon were spoken of all too briefly, and he wishes to know if I can interpret the meaning of the Negro's gift. I guess so.
["Luniolatry" literally means "the veneration or worship of the Moon."]
As previously explained the hare and the rabbit are both zootypes or living images of lunar phenomena. A rabbit pounding rice in a mortar is a Chinese sign of the moon. Swabian children are still forbidden to make the likeness of a rabbit or hare in shadow on the wall, as it would be a sin against the moon. The hare in the moon is a well-known Hindu type of Buddha. It is mythically represented that Buddha once took the form of a hare on purpose to offer himself as food for a poor famishing creature, and so the Buddha was translated in that shape to be eternized as the hare in the moon. That is one illustration of the way in which the book of external nature was filled full of mystic meanings, the essence of which escapes altogether in trying to read such things as historical, no matter whether they are related of Buddha, Horus, or Jesus.
This hare or rabbit in the moon is a symbol or superstition with various races, Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and White. When the meaning was understood it was a symbol; when the clue is lost it becomes a superstition of the ignorant; thus the ancient symbolism survives in a state of dotage with the Negroes as well as with the "noble Caucasian".
The frog in the moon was another lunar type. In a Chinese myth -- that is, a symbolic representation -- the lunar frog has three legs, like the Persian ass in the Bundahish. In both cases the three legs stand for three phases of the moon reckoned at ten days each in a luni-solar month of thirty days.
Now it happens that the rabbit's period of gestation is thirty days; and the early races included very curious observers amongst their naturalists, who had to think in things and express their thought in gesture-signs and zootypes before there were such things as printer's types. Hence the frog that dropped its tail, the serpent that sloughed its skin, [and] the rabbit with its period of thirty days, were all symbols of the moon. Enough that the rabbit was a zootype of the moon, and the rabbit is equal to the hare.
Hor-Apollo tells us that when the Egyptians would denote "an opening", they delineate a hare, because this animal always has its eyes open. This can be corroborated in several ways. The name of the hare in Egyptian is "Un", which means open, to open, the opener. It was applied to Osiris, "Un-Nefer", in his lunar character as the good opener, otherwise the splendid or glorious hare, because "Nefer" means the handsome, beautiful, perfect, or glorious. Also the city of Unnut was that of the hare, "Un", and this was the metropolis of the 15th Nome of Upper Egypt, which is another mode of identifying the open-eyed hare with the moon at the full, called the "Eye of Horus", and with the woman of the moon who brings her orb to the full on the 15th day of the month.
The hare was also a symbol of the opening period at puberty, a sign therefore of being open, unprohibited, or "it is lawful" (Sharpe). Hence the Namaqua Hottentots would only permit the hare to be eaten by those who had attained the age of the adult male. The [Latin idiom or] proverb "Somnus leporinus" [literally "the sleep of a hare"] relates to the hare that sleeps with its eyes open; and in our old English pharmacopoeia of the folk-lore or leech-craft, the brains and eyes of the hare are prescribed as a cure for somnolency, and a sovereign medicine for making or keeping people wide-awake.
The rabbit equates with the hare, and has the same symbolical value. Now it is sometimes said that the hare-rabbit is of both sexes. So the moon was both male and female in accordance with the dual lunation. The new moon with the horns of the bull or the long ears of the ass, the rabbit, or hare was considered to be male. The dark lunation or hinder part was female. In the ancient symbolism the front or fore-part is masculine, the hinder-part or the tail is feminine. The two were head and tail in the earliest coinage as well as on the latest coins.
In Egypt the South was front and is male; the North was the hinder-part and is female. Hence the old Typhon of the Northern part was denoted by the tail-piece, and it follows that Satan with the long tail is of feminine origin, and so the devil was female from the first.
The same symbolism was applied to the moon. In the light half it was the male moon, in the dark half female. The new moon was the Lord of Light, the Increaser, the sign of new life, of saving and healing. The new moon was the messenger of immortality to men in the form of the hare or the rabbit. The waning moon represented the devil of darkness, the Typhonian power that said to men "even as I die and do not rise again so will it be with you". Offerings were made to the new moon. When the moon was at the full the Egyptians sacrificed a black pig to Osiris. This represented Typhon, his conquered enemy. But in the dark half of the lunation Typhon had the upper hand when he tore Osiris into fourteen parts during the fourteen nights of his supremacy.
The lunar zootype then is male in front, and female in the hinder-part of the animal. In the hieroglyphics the khepsh-leg or hind-quarter is the ideographic type of Typhon, the evil power personified. Further, the left side is female and Typhonian; the right is male. Ergo, the left hind leg of the grave-yard animal that was killed in the dark of the moon, stood for the hind (or last) quarter of the moon; literally the end of it. And if the negro laid hold of that rabbit's foot the right way, we can read the symbol that he probably did not understand, although he knew the rabbit's hind foot was a good fetish.
It shows the survival of intended symbolism, which represents some sort of victory over the power of darkness analogous to taking the brush of the fox (another Typhonian animal) after it has been hunted to death. This was the last leg that the devil of darkness had to stand on, and so it was a trophy snatched from the Typhonian power to be worn in triumph as a token of good luck, of repetition or renewal, thence a second term.
It would be a sort of equivalent for taking the scalp of Satan, who could only be typified by the tail or hinder leg. The gift was tantamount to wishing "A Happy New Moon to You!" expressed in the language of symbolism, which was acted instead of being spoken.
The Negroes consider this particular talisman bequeathed by "Brer Rabbit" represents all the virtues and powers of renewal that are popularly attributed to the New Moon. But do not let me be misunderstood by those who know that in the Negro Maerchen the rabbit is the good one of the typical two, and that the fox plays the Typhonian part.
["Maerchen" is the German word for folk-tales, in English sometimes called "fairy tales," whether or not fairies are actually found in any given tale.]
The rabbit or hare of the moon may be portrayed in two characters or in one of two. In both he is the hero, the Lord of Light and conqueror of the Power of Darkness, the rabbit, so to say, that rises again from the graveyard in or as the New Moon. The figure of the hind quarter and latter end of the dying moon is thus a type of the conquered Typhon, but the magical influence depends upon its being also a type of the conqueror, the rabbit of the resurrection or the New Moon. It is a curious coincidence that the luckiest of all Lucky Horse-Shoes in England is one that has been cast off the left hind foot of a Mare.
Lastly, this hind leg of the lunar rabbit is a fellow-type with the leg of pig that is still eaten in England on Easter Monday, which is a survival of the ancient sacrifice of the pig Typhon, in the solar or annual reckoning, as portrayed in the planisphere of Denderah, where we see the god Khunsu offering the pig by the leg in the disc of the full moon. It must have been a potent fetish long ages ago in Africa, and a medicine of great power according to the primitive mysteries of the dark land.
It may be surmised that much of this fetishistic typology is still extant amongst the Negroes in the United States, and it is to be hoped that the Bureau of Ethnology at Washington, which has done, and is doing, such good work under the direction of Major J. W. Powell in collecting and preserving the relics of the Red Men [Native Americans], will extend the range of its researches to the black race in America, and not leave those matters to irresponsible story-tellers.
[Was the rabbit foot charm successful? Well,
in the election of 1888, Cleveland won the popular vote, but his opponent Benjamin Harrison won
the election with a majority in the Electoral College, aided, it was said, by a flurry of fraudulent votes.
Harrison's pork barrel croneyism led to a depletion of the U.S. Treasury, and Cleveland fought
back throughout Harrison's single term by encouraging the adoption of the practice of the secret ballot, then only practiced
in one state, Massachusetts, as well as in the Australian territory of New South Wales. Cleveland's
advocacy of the secret ballot because a popular cause, and by the presidential election of
1892, secret bolloting was the law of the land in 38 of the then 44 states,
and Grover Cleveland was returned to a second term in office, winning both the
popular vote and the vote of the Electoral College. So in the end the charm did work.
However, reelecting Grover Cleveland was not all that the old Negro gentleman had hoped it would be, because
Cleveland presided over the worsening of
race relations and the rise of Jim Crow laws in America. Perhaps because he felt that he had
been robbed of the 1888 election, he repealed the Enforcement Act of 1871 that
had aided the enfranchisement of Black citizens by providing for federal oversight of the
electoral process, from registration to the certification of returns. And, most notably, he also
endorsed the 1896 Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, which led to the notorious
"separate but equal" doctrine of the segregationist South until it was overturned in 1954.
Cleveland died in 1908, one year after Fred Lounsury's racist rabbit foot postcard was
published, and also one year after Gerald Massey's death at the age of 71.]
However, reelecting Grover Cleveland was not all that the old Negro gentleman had hoped it would be, because Cleveland presided over the worsening of race relations and the rise of Jim Crow laws in America. Perhaps because he felt that he had been robbed of the 1888 election, he repealed the Enforcement Act of 1871 that had aided the enfranchisement of Black citizens by providing for federal oversight of the electoral process, from registration to the certification of returns. And, most notably, he also endorsed the 1896 Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, which led to the notorious "separate but equal" doctrine of the segregationist South until it was overturned in 1954. Cleveland died in 1908, one year after Fred Lounsury's racist rabbit foot postcard was published, and also one year after Gerald Massey's death at the age of 71.]
This material is reprinted from
Vol. 1, No. 6
February 15th, 1888
George Redway, London
[My sincere gratitude to James Dotson for supplying a copy of Massey's public domain material and to nagasiva yronwode for helping with artwork.]
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