Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XX.: INVESTIGATION OF TRUTH. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. XX.: INVESTIGATION OF TRUTH. - Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, marquis de Volney, The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires 
The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires, 3rd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1796).
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INVESTIGATION OF TRUTH.
The people having by shouts expressed their approbation, the legislators said: “That we may proceed in this grand work with order and regularity, let a spacious amphitheatre be formed in the sand before the altar of union and peace: let each system of religion and each particular sect, erect its proper and distinguishing standard in points of the circumference; let its chiefs and its doctors place themselves round it, and let their followers be ranged in a right line terminated by the standard.”
The amphitheatre being traced out, and order proclaimed, a prodigious number of standards were instantly raised, similar to what is seen in a commercial port, when, on days of festivity, the flags of a hundred nations stream from a forest of masts. At sight of this astonishing diversity, I addressed myself to the Genius: I scarcely supposed the earth, said I, to be divided into more than eight or ten different systems of religion, and I then despaired of conciliation: how can I now hope for concord when I behold thousands of different parties!—These, however, replied the Genius, are but a part of what exist; and yet they would be intolerant!
As the groupes advanced to take their stations, the Genius, pointing out to me the symbols and attributes of each, thus explained to me their meaning.
That first groupe, said he, with a green standard, on which you see displayed a cross, a bandage, and a sabre, is formed of the followers of the Arabian prophet. To believe in a God (without knowing what he is); to have faith in the words of a man (without understanding the language in which he speaks); to travel into a desert in order to pray to the Deity (who is every where); to wash the hands with water (and not abstain from blood); to fast all day (and practise intemperance at night); to give alms of their own property (and to plunder the property of their neighbour): such are the means of perfection instituted by Mahomet, such the signals and characteristics of his true followers; and whoever professes not these tenets, is considered as a reprobate, has the sacred anathema denounced against him, and is devoted to the sword. A God of clemency, the author of life, has, according to them, instituted these laws of oppression and murder; has instituted them for the whole universe, though he has condescended to reveal them but to one man; has established them from all eternity, though they were made known by him but yesterday. These laws are sufficient for all the purposes of life, and yet a volume is added to them; this volume was to diffuse light, to exhibit evidence, to lead to perfection and happiness, and yet, in the very life-time of its prophet, its pages, every where abounding with obscure, ambiguous, and contradictory passages, needed explanation and commentaries; and the persons who undertook to interpret them, varying in opinion, became divided into sects and parties opposite and inimical to each other. One maintains that Ali is the true successor, and another takes the part of Omar and Aboubekre. This denies the eternity of the Koran, that the necessity of ablutions and prayers. The Carmite proscribes pilgrimage, and allows the use of wine; the Hakemite preaches the doctrine of transmigration, and thus are there sects to the number of seventy-two, of which you may enumerate the different standards(6) . In this discordance, each ascribing the evidence exclusively to itself, and stigmatizing the rest with heresy and rebellion, has turned against them its sanguinary zeal. And this religion, which celebrates a beneficent and merciful God, the common parent of the whole human race, converted into a torch of discord and an incentive to war, has never ceased for twelve hundred years to whelm the earth in blood, and spread ravage and desolation from one extremity of the ancient hemisphere to the other(7) .
The men you see distinguished by their vast white turbans, their hanging sleeves and long rosaries, are the Imans, the Mollas, and the Muftis; and not far from them are the Dervises with a pointed bonnet, and the Santons with their sacred tonsure. They utter with vehemence their several confessions of faith; they dispute with eagerness respecting the more or less important sources of impurity; the mode of performing ablutions; the attributes and perfections of God; the Chaîtan and the good and evil Genii; death; the resurrection; the interrogatory which succeeds the tomb; the passage of the perilous bridge, and its hair-breadth escapes; the balance of good and bad works; the pains of hell, and the joys of paradise.
By the side of these, that still more numerous groupe, with standards of a white ground strewed with crosses, consists of the worshippers of Jesus. Acknowledging the same God as the Mussulmans, founding their belief on the same books, admitting like them a first man, who lost the whole human race by eating an apple, they yet feel towards them a holy horror; and from motives of piety, these two sects reciprocally treat each other as impious men and blasphemers. Their chief point of dissension is, that the Christian, after admitting the unity and indivisibility of God, proceeds to divide him into three persons, making of each an entire and complete God, and yet preserving an identical whole: he adds, that this Being, who fills the universe, reduced himself to the stature and form of a man, and assumed material, perishable, and limited organs, without ceasing to be immaterial, eternal, and infinite. The Mussulman, on the contrary, not able to comprehend these mysteries, though he readily conceives of the eternity of the Koran, and the mission of the prophet, treats them as absurdities; and rejects them as the visions of a disordered brain. Hence result the most implacable animosities.
Divided among themselves, the Christian sects are not less numerous than those of the Mussulman religion; and the quarrels that agitate them are by so much the more violent, since the objects for which they contend being inaccessible to the senses, and of consequence incapable of demonstration, the opinions of each sectary can have no other foundation than that of his will or caprice. Thus agreeing that God is an incomprehensible and unknown being, they nevertheless dispute respecting his essence, his mode of acting, and his attributes. Agreeing that his supposed transformation into man, is an enigma above the human understanding, they still dispute respecting the confusion or the distinction of two wills and two natures, the change of substance, the real or fictitious presence, the mode of incarnation, &c. &c. Hence innumerable sects, of which two or three hundred have already perished, and three or four hundred others still exist, and are represented by that multitude of colours in which your sight is bewildered. The first in order, surrounded by a groupe absurd and discordant in their attire, red, purple, black, white, and speckled, with heads wholly or partially shaved, or with their hair short, with red caps, square caps, here with mitres, there with beards, is the standard of the Roman pontiff, who, applying to the priesthood the pre-eminence of his city in the civil order, has erected his supremacy into a point of religion, and made of his pride an article of faith.
At the right, you see the Greek Pontiff, who, proud of the rivalship set up by his metropolis, opposes equal pretensions, and supports them against the Western church, by the superior antiquity of that of the East. At the left, are the standards of two recent chiefs* , who, throwing off a yoke that was become tyrannical, have, in their reform, erected altars against altars, and gained half Europe from the Pope. Behind them are the inferior sects into which these grand parties are again subdivided, the Nestorians, the Eutycheans, the Jacobites, the Iconoclasts, the Anabaptists, the Presbyterians, the Wiclifites, the Osiandrins, the Manicheans, the Pietists, the Adamites, the Enthusiasts, the Quakers, the Weepers, together with a hundred others(8) ; all of distinct parties, of a persecuting spirit when strong, tolerant when weak, hating each other in the name of a God of peace, forming to themselves an exclusive paradise in a religion of universal charity, each dooming the rest, in another world, to endless torments, and realizing here the imaginary hell of futurity.
Next to this groupe, observing a single standard of a hyacinth colour, round which were gathered men in all the various dresses of Europe and Asia: Here, said I to the Genius, we shall at least find unanimity.—At first sight, replied he, and from an incidental and temporary circumstance this would seem to be the case: but do you not know what system of worship it is?—Then perceiving in Hebrew letters the monogram of God, and branches of the palm-tree in the hands of the Rabbins: Are not these, said I, the children of Moses, dispersed over the earth, and who, holding every nation in abhorrence, have been themselves universally despised and persecuted?—Yes, replied the Genius, and it is for this very reason that, having neither time nor liberty to dispute, they have preserved the appearance of unanimity. But in their re-union, no sooner shall they compare their principles, and reason upon their opinions, than they will be divided, as formerly, at least into two principal sects* , one of which, taking advantage of the silence of their legislator, and confining itself to the literal sense of his books, will deny every dogma not therein clearly understood, and of consequence will reject as inventions, the immortality of the soul, its transmigration into an abode of happiness or seat of pain, its resurrection, the last judgment, the existence of angels, the revolt of a fallen spirit, and the poetical system of a world to come: and this favoured people, whose perfection consists in the cutting off a morsel of their flesh, this atom of people that in the ocean of mankind is but as a small wave, and that pretends that the whole was made for them alone, will farther reduce by one half, in consequence of their schism, their already trivial weight in the balance of the universe.
The Genius then directed my attention to another groupe, the individuals of which were clothed in white robes, had a veil covering the mouth, and were ranged round a standard of the colour of the clouds gilded by the rising sun. On this standard was painted a globe, one hemisphere of which was black and the other white. The fate of these disciples of Zoroaster(9) , continued he, this obscure remnant of a people once so powerful, will be similar to that of the Jews. Dispersed as they are at present among other nations, and persecuted by all, they receive without discussion the precepts that are taught them: but so soon as their Mobed and their Destours(10) shall be restored to their full prerogatives, the controversy will be revived respecting the good and the bad principle, the combats of Ormuz, God of light, and Ahrimanes, God of darkness; the literal or allegorical senses of these combats; the good and evil Genii; the worship of fire and the elements; pollution and purification; the resurrection of the body, or the soul, or both(11) ; the renovation of the present world, or the production of a new which is to succeed it. The Parses will ever divide themselves into sects, by so much the more numerous as their families shall have contracted different manners or opinions during their dispersion.
Next to these are standards which exhibit upon a blue ground monstrous figures of human bodies, double, triple, or quadruple, with the heads of lions, boars, and elephants, and tails of fishes, tortoises, &c. These are the standards of the Indian sects, who find their Gods amidst the animal creation, and the souls of their kindred in reptiles and insects. These men anxiously support hospitals for the reception of hawks, serpents, and rats, and look with horror upon their brethren of mankind! They purify themselves with the dung and urine of a cow, and consider themselves as polluted by the touch of a heretic! They wear a net over their mouths, lest by accident a fly should get down their throat, and they should thus interrupt the progress of a purified spirit in its purgatory; but with all this humanity in unintelligible cases, they think themselves obliged to let a Paria(12) perish with hunger rather than relieve him! They worship the same Gods, but inlist themselves under hostile standards.
This first standard, separated from the rest, and on which you see represented a figure with four heads, is the standard of Brama, who, though the Creator of the universe, has neither followers nor temples, and who, reduced to serve as a pedestal to the Lingam(13) , receives no other mark of attention than a little water sprinkled every morning over his shoulder by the Bramin, and a barren song in his praise.
The second standard on which you see painted a kite, his body scarlet and his head white, is that of the Vichenou, who, though preserver of the universe, has passed a part of his life in malevolent actions. Sometimes you see him under the hideous forms of a boar and a lion tearing the entrails of mankind; sometimes under that of a horse(14) , soon to appear upon the face of the earth, with a sabre in his hand, to destroy the present inhabitants of the world, to darken the stars, to drive the planets from their spheres, to shake the whole earth, and to oblige the mighty serpent to vomit a flame which shall consume the globes.
The third standard is that of Chiven, the destroyer of all things, the God of desolation, and who nevertheless has for his emblem the instrument of production; he is the most detestable of the three, and he has the greatest number of followers. Proud of his attribute and character, his partizans in their devotions(15) express every sort of contempt for the other Gods, his equals and his brothers, and imitating the inconsistency that characterises him, they profess modesty and chastity, and at the same time publicly crown with flowers, and bathe with milk and honey, the obscene image of the Lingam.
Behind them came the less magnificent standards of a multitude of Gods, male, female, and hermaphrodite, related to and connected with the three principal, who pass their lives in intestine war, and are in this respect imitated by their worshippers. These Gods have need of nothing, and receive offerings without ceasing. Their attributes are omnipotence and ubiquity, and a Bramin with some petty charm imprisons them in an image, or in a pitcher, and retails their favours according to his will and pleasure.
At a still greater distance you will observe a multitude of other standards, which, upon a yellow ground, common to them all, have different emblems figured, and are the standards of one God, who, under various names, is acknowledged by the nations of the East. The Chinese worship him under the name of Fôt(16) ; the Japanese denominate him Budso; the inhabitants of Ceylon, Beddhou; the people of Laos, Chekia; the Peguan, Phta; the Siamese, Sommona-Kodom; the people of Thibet, Budd and La; all of them agree as to most points of his history; they celebrate his penitence, his sufferings, his fasts, his functions of mediator and expiator, the enmity of another God his adversary, the combats of that adversary and his defeat: but they disagree respecting the means of recommending themselves to his favour, respecting rites and ceremonies, respecting the dogmas of their interior and their public doctrine. Thus the Japanese Bonze, in a yellow robe, and with his head uncovered, preaches the eternity of souls and their successive transmigration into different bodies; while his rival, the Sintoist, denies that the soul can exist independently of the senses(17) , and maintains that it is the mere result of the organization with which it is connected, and with which it perishes, as the sound of a flute is annihilated when you break it in pieces. Near him the Siamese, with shaved eye-brows, and with the Talipat screen in his hand(18) , recommends alms-giving, purifications and offerings, at the very time that he believes in blind necessity and immutable fate. The Chinese Ho-Chang sacrifices to the souls of his ancestors, while his neighbour, the follower of Confucius, pretends to discover his future destiny by the tossing of counters and the conjunction of the stars(19) . Observe this infant attended by a numerous crowd of priests with yellow garments and bonnets: he is the grand Lama, and the God of Thibet has just become incarnate in his person(20) . He however has a rival on the banks of the Baikal; nor is the Calmuc Tartar in this respect any way behind the Tartar of La-sa. They are agreed in this important doctrine, that God can become incarnate only in a human body, and scorn the stupidity of the Indian, who looks down with reverence upon cow-dung, though they themselves preserve with no less awe the excrements of their pontiff(21) .
As these standards passed, an innumerable crowd of others presented themselves to our eyes, and the Genius exclaimed: I should never come to a conclusion, were I to detail to you all the different systems of belief which divide these nations. Here the Tartar Hordes adore, under the figure of animals, insects, and birds, the good and the evil Genii, who, under a principal but indolent divinity, govern the universe, by their idolatry giving us an image of the ancient paganism of the western world. You see the strange dress of their Chamans, a robe of leather fringed with little bells and rattles, embroidered with idols of iron, claws of birds, skins of serpents, and heads of owls: they are agitated with artificial convulsions, and with magical cries evoke the dead to deceive the living. In this place you behold the sooty inhabitants of Africa, who, while they worship their Fetiches, entertain the same opinions. The inhabitant of Juida adores God under the figure of an enormous serpent, which for their misfortune the swine regard as a delicious morsel(22) . The Teleutean dresses the figure of his God in a variety of gaudy colours, like a Russian soldier; and the Kamchadale, finding that every thing goes on ill in this world and under his climate, represents God to himself under the figure of an ill-natured and arbitrary old man(23) , smoking his pipe and sitting in his traineau employed in the hunting of foxes and martins. In fine, there are a hundred other savage nations, who, entertaining none of these ideas of civilized countries respecting God, the soul, and a future state, exercise no species of worship, and yet are not less favoured with the gifts of nature, in the irreligion to which nature has destined them.
[* ]Luther and Calvin.
[* ]The Sadducees and the Pharisees.
[Page 157. (6).]Thus are there sects to the number of seventy-two. The Mussulmans enumerate in common seventy-two sects; but I read, while I resided among them, a work which gave an account of more than eighty, all equally wise and important.
[Page id. (7).]Has never ceased for twelve hundred years. Read the history of Islamism by its own writers, and you will be convinced that one of the principal causes of the wars which have desolated Asia and Africa since the days of Mahomet, has been the apostolical fanaticism of its doctrine. Cæsar has been supposed to have destroyed three millions of men: it would be interesting to make a similar calculation respecting every founder of a religious system.
[Page 161. (8).]The Nestorians, the Eutycheans, and a hundred others. Consult upon this subject Dictionnaire des Heresiés par l’Abbe Pluquet, in two volumes, 8vo; a work admirably calculated to inspire the mind with philosophy, in the sense that the Lacedemonians taught their children temperance, by shewing to them the drunken Heliotes.
[Page 163. (9).]Disciples of Zoroaster. They are the Parses, better known by the opprobrious name of Gaures or Guebres, another word for infidels. They are in Asia what the Jews are in Europe. The name of their pope or high priest is Mobed.
[Page 164. (10).]Their Destours; that is to say, their priests. See, respecting the rites of this religion, Henry Lord, Hyde, and the Zendavesta. Their costuma is a robe with a beit of four knots, and a veil over the mouth for fear of polluting the fire with their breath.
[Page id. (11).]The resurrection of the body, or the soul, or both. The Zoroastrians are divided between two opinions, one party believing that both soul and body will rise, the other, that it will be the soul only. The Christians and Mahometans have embraced the most solid of the two.
[Page 165. (12).]They wear a net over their mouths, &c. According to the system of the Metempsychosis, a soul, to undergo purification, passes into the body of some insect or animal. It is of importance not to disturb this penance, as the work must in that case begin asreth. . . . Paria. This is the name of a cast or tribe reputed unclean, because they eat of what has enjoyed life.
[Page id. (13).]Brama.—reduced to serve as a pedestal to the Lingam. See Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes. Vol. I.
[Page 166. (14).]Hideous forms of a boar, a lion, &c. These are the incarnations of Vichenou, or metamorphoses of the sun. He is to come at the end of the world, that is, at the expiration of the great period, in the form of a horse, like the four horses of the apocalypse.
[Page id. (15).]In their devotion, &c. When a sectary of Chiven hears the name of Vichenou pronounced, he stops his ears, flies, and purifies himself.
[Page 167. (16).]The Chinese worship him under the nameof Fôt. The original name of this God is Baits, which in Hebrew signifies an egg. The Arabs pronounce in Baidh, giving to the dh an emphatic sound which makes it approach to dz. Kempfer, an accurate traveller, writes it Budso, which must be pronounced Boudso, whence is derived the name of Budsoist and of Bonze, applied to the priests. Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromata, writes it Bedou, as it is pronounced also by the Chingulais; and Saint Jerome Boudda and Boutta. At Thibet they call it Budd, and hence the name of the country called Boud-tan and Ti-budd; it was in this province that this system of religion was first inculcated in Upper Asia; La is a corruption of Allah, the name of God in the Syriac language, from which many of the Eastern dialects appear to be derived. The Chinese having neither b nor d, have supplied their place by f and t, and have therefore said Fout.
[Page 168. (17).]That the soul can exist independently of the senses. See in Kempfer the doctrine of the Sintoists, which is a mixture of that of Epicurus and of the Stoics.
[Page id. (18).]Talipat screen. It is a leaf of the Latanier species of the palm tree. Hence the Bonzes of Siam take the appellation of Talapoin. The use of this screen is an exclusive privilege.
[Page 169. (19).]Conjunction of the stars. The sectaries of Confucius are no less addicted to astrology than the Bonzes. It is indeed the malady of every eastern nation.
[Page id. (20).]The Grand Lama. The Delai-La-Ma, or immense high priests of La, is the same person whom we find mentioned in our old books of travels, by the name of Prester John, from a corruption of the Persian word Djehan, which signifies the world, to which has been prefixed the French word prestre or prêtre, priest. Thus the priest world and the God world are in the Persian idiom the same.
[Page id. (21).]The excrements of their pontiff. In a recent expedition, the English have sound certain idols of the Lamas filled in the inside with sacred pastils from the close-stool of the high-priest. Mr. Hastings, and Colonel Pollier who is now at Lausanne, are living witnesses of this fact, and undoubtedly worthy of credit. It will be very extraordinary to observe, that this disgusting ceremony is connected with a profound philosophical system, to wit, that of the metempsychosis, admitted by the Lamas. When the Tartars swallow these sacred relics, which they are accustomed to do, they imitate the laws of the universe, the parts of which are incessantly absorbed and pass into the substance of each other. It is upon the model of the serpent who devours his tail, and this serpent is Budd and the world.
[Page 170. (22).]The inhabitant of Juida, &c. It frequently happens, that the swine devour the very species of serpents which the negroes adore, which is a source of great desolation in the country. President de Brosses has given us in his history of the Fetiche, a curious collection of absurdities of this nature. . . . The Teleutean dresses, &c. The Teleuteans, a Tartar nation, paint God as wearing a vesture of all colours, particularly red and green; and as these constitute the uniform of the Russian dragoons, they compare him to this description of soldiers. The Egyptians also dress the God World in a garment of every colour. Eusebius Præp. Evang. p. 115. l. 3. The Teleuteans call God Bou, which is only an alteration of Boudd, the God Egg and World.
[Page id. (23).]The Kamchadale represents God under the figure of an ill-natured and arbitrary old man. Consult upon this subject a work entitled, Description des Peuples soumis à la Russe, and it will be found that the picture is not overcharged.