Before the migration of patterns one might trace the origin of fabrics by reading their ornamentation and noting the designs or ideographs used to depict the thought of the craftsman or art-worker. Now it is almost impossible to find pure designs, so crossed are some motifs by certain others.
Wars and pilgrimages have carried the thoughts of people to each other, and mongrel ornament is the result. It is not uncommon at the present time to see patterns that once had most sacred significance used for the most utterly secular—one might almost say profane—purposes.
The pilgrim from the Vale of Cashmere, who for his journey to Mecca makes a rug of priceless value and marvellous beauty, weaves into the fabric all the tribal patterns and traditions that are dear to his heart as inheritance.
At his bidding wools have been specially prepared and dyed, and everything has helped toward the production of a perfect article. He may perchance sell his rug in Arabia to a pilgrim who has journeyed to the Holy City from Morocco, who in turn sells his rug to the other, and in their respective homes, far distant from their places of manufacture, these rugs are copied by families and tribes who doubtless falsely interpret designs and but poorly imitate patterns.
Later on, these rugs, which are regarded as choice relics, may be sold to travellers who think that they are buying directly from the original weavers. The purchasers, knowing nothing of either design or its migration, respectively regard the rug bought in Morocco as representing Moorish style, and that procured in India as typical of Indian ornament. Great confusion of thought is the necessary and inevitable result.
It thus becomes more than ever the duty of the thoughtful student to endeavour, if possible, not to add to this lamentable state of things, and in no way can this be better accomplished than by holding to the analytical study of objects at hand until the eye becomes trained to distinguish for itself between pure and mixed patterns.
Fortunately it is not too late, for we are still near enough to the time when the textile art was the repository for traditional patterns, and there is still left enough that is true to assert itself, and force us to further inquiry and study of the great beginnings of things ; while with each new draught from the refreshing fountain of knowledge we find ourselves able to think more soberly and to see more clearly.
The practical question is asked, " How may this be done?" In the first place, our interest will lead us to consult students of comparative religions for all the information they can give us regarding the ideas of primitive man about the great problems of existence; and from antiquarians and ethnologists we may learn how these thoughts were first manifested in art.
Man, finding himself in the midst of created things other than himself, could not fail to have ideas concerning them. These earliest conceptions of the human brain found expression in the art of all the peoples of the earth, and we trace sun motifs and star motifs, rain and flame motifs, in all early patterns. Emblems of deities presiding over natural phenomena, spirits to be placated, demons to be pacified,—each and all were symbolized, and thoughts about them were perpetuated in ornament.
These patterns have been corrupted by weavers who have deviated from traditional thought so far as to be unable themselves to interpret them ; but still in the Oriental rug we find enough of value to insist upon it as an interpretative object to handle, and the testimony of many students will prove their ability to utilize the survival of ancient thought found in many patterns to-day.
The onward sweep of civilization has caused the hidden and occult thought of one century to be but empty form in the next, so that we may deal with ornament without penetrating the mysteries that underlie it and upon which it is based. So powerful has been the cross-current of thought, however, that great styles have grown out of primitive beliefs, and when enough of them have been discovered and they have become sufficiently apparent to us, we shall be able to trace the influence of one period after another in the world's history, realizing that under main styles are grouped many lesser divisions.
A few of the most important of these styles have been given to us in the five divisions that we have already adopted, and we must learn to detect the general peculiarities in pattern before we attempt to consider local characteristics. Subdivisions of the subject will give us, under the main styles, Turkish, Caucasian, Persian, Turcoman, and Indian, and the lesser but quite as important modifications and combinations of them known as
—and many other styles, each of which may contribute some strand in the modern rug which will be recognized by the student who has become familiar with the principles of pristine art. In such we find the crossing and recrossing of human thought, and the influence of one people upon another, until we find that fact and fancy have woven a web that entrances and enthralls us.
From the time of Alexander, the great "Sikunder " of history, to the latest efforts of greater powers to subdue the lesser, war has been one of the most direct and powerful causes for the migration of pattern. The appearance of classic Greek ornament in the heart of Asia has puzzled more than one thoughtful student, who accepts first one and then another belief regarding the claims of Europe and Asia for priority in the creation of design. Some students favour the belief in the migration from Asia to Europe of such well-known forms as the swastika and the lotus, while others insist that both are Greek forms carried by European conquerors into the Orient:
Of late years the claims of China have forced themselves upon all interested in the migration of pattern, and the calm, staid evidence of centuries makes a strong appeal in favour of her right to much that limited knowledge has heretofore attributed to better-known places, and much has been discovered in Chinese ornament that bears evidence of the use of motifs in prehistoric workmanship that were supposed to have originated elsewhere.
Many students of Chinese art—or, we might say more broadly, of Mongolian art—feel that, however absolute may have been the sway of the Egyptian lotus over the ornament of western Asia, it was the lotus of China which gave birth to the medallion in ornament which is now known as a Mongolian element wherever it is found. The early lotus forms in Chinese art antedate the influence of Buddhism in that empire, and are very different from, the well known Hindu and Assyrian lotus designs.
Opinions vary so about facts, that individual research seems to „be the only safeguard for the student, whose examination and comparison of existing material and opinions should furnish him with sufficient reason for the " hope that is, in him." We have not yet arrived ; it is not for us to be " in at the finish ;" but we have a right to our place in the circumference of opinion which surrounds each disputed fact.
Such devotion to task has been displayed by modern writers that it gives us unbounded pleasure to refer to their efforts to establish truth. If we were not endeavouring to make independent research with our own feeble rushlight, it would be futile to do more than supply a bibliography of such books as Count Goblet, " Migration of Symbols", and numberless articles in magazines issued by societies whose sole object is to examine and sift information. Students who are adding their valuable quota to the accumulation called " modern knowledge " are not making any pretence.
They are endeavouring, with unswerving fidelity, to treat their own chosen and special subjects with profound ability, avoiding the consideration of all that does not bear directly upon them : sometimes drawing the line so closely around their specified purpose that much that seems to the casual critic to be related to it is excluded. It is true that the great reservoirs of knowledge exist. It is left for us as individuals, however, to establish distributive channels, so that the truth may reach all.
It is surprising how oftentimes some possession which has been for a century or two in one family, —handed down by one to another, hidden from the general observation of students,—is suddenly discovered by one who, laying no claim to even ordinary knowledge, turns, with the intelligence born of desire to know something about material objects, to these oft-handled treasures, and for the first time realizes that the possession is one that will throw light on present discussion.
This is exemplified by the attitude of many who, after reading the monograph on the swastika written by the late Thomas Wilson and published by the Smithsonian Institution, found that they possessed rare curios decorated with the now well-known form. Such sent their treasures to Mr. Wilson as gifts, and in personal letters they were assured by the great thinker that each object silently testified to what he had grown to believe, and convinced him afresh of the truths he had endeavoured to demonstrate.
Purchasers of Oriental rugs fifty years ago secured many in which patterns were true to tribal distinctions, and such are to-day hidden away in the homes of Europe and America, waiting for intelligent recognition. Such possessions hold an " open sesame " power which may lead some future student into the great labyrinth of speculation, out of which it is hardly possible to escape without an opinion. This view of the subject should lead each individual to make an intelligent study of those objects over which he is custodian, and the claims of such should be considered, as they, unlike books about them, are objective and should be allowed to speak for themselves.
The varying opinions of those whose conclusions we respect, in regard to the migration of pattern, lead to two important points of view. Some hold that pattern was independently discovered by all primitive peoples, while others insist that earlier civilization invented, and later peoples carried symbolic decoration from one to the other.
Whichever is true of the beginning of things we may leave to learned authorities to decide ; but for light on the subject at hand we have to consider both the patterns that we can trace to migration, and those that have arisen in answer to the needs and beliefs of individual nations ; for our study is of the use of pattern, not of its birth, and as we advance we must learn to follow the advice of Emerson, who says :
"Trust thyself : every heart vibrates to that iron string." * * * * * " A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages."