Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XXII.: ORIGIN AND GENEALOGY OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. XXII.: ORIGIN AND GENEALOGY OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS. - 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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ORIGIN AND GENEALOGY OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS.
At these words a new groupe, formed in an instant of individuals from every standard, but undistinguished by any, advanced in the sand, and one of the members, speaking in the name of the general body, said:
“Legislators, friends of evidence and of truth!
“That the subject of which we treat should be involved in so many clouds, is by no means astonishing, since, beside the difficulties that are peculiar to it, thought itself has, till this moment, ever had shackles imposed upon it, and free enquiry, by the intolerance of every religious system, been interdicted. But now that thought is unrestrained, and may develope all its powers, we will expose in the face of day, and submit to the common judgment of assembled nations, such rational truths as unprejudiced minds have by long and laborious study discovered: and this, not with the design of imposing them as a creed, but from a desire of provoking new lights, and obtaining better information.
“Chiefs and instructors of the people, you are not ignorant of the profound obscurity in which the nature, origin, and history of the dogmas you teach are inveloped. Imposed by force and authority, inculcated by education, maintained by the influence of example, they were perpetuated from age to age, and habit and inattention strengthened their empire. But if man, enlightened by experience and reflection, summon to the bar of mature examination the prejudices of his infancy, he presently discovers a multitude of incongruities and contradictions which awaken his sagacity, and call forth the exertion of his reasoning powers.
“At first, remarking the various and opposite creeds into which nations are divided, we are led boldly to reject the infallibility claimed by each; and arming ourselves alternately with their reciprocal pretensions, to conceive that the senses and the understanding emanating directly from God, are a law not less sacred, and a guide not less sure than the indirect and contradictory codes of the prophets.
“If we proceed to examine the texture of the codes themselves, we shall observe that their pretended divine laws, that is to say, laws immutable and eternal, have risen from the complexion of times, of places, and of persons; that these codes issue one from another in a kind of a genealogical order, mutually borrowing a common and similar fund of ideas, which every institutor modifies agreeably to his fancy.
“If we ascend to the source of those ideas, we shall find that it is lost in the night of time, in the infancy of nations, in the very origin of the world, to which they claim alliance; and there, immersed in the obscurity of chaos, and the fabulous empire of tradition, they are attended with so many prodigies as to be seemingly inaccessible to the human understanding. But this prodigious state of things gives birth itself to a ray of reasoning, that resolves the difficulty; for if the miracles held out in systems of religion have actually existed; if, for instance, metamorphoses, apparitions, and the conversations of one or more Gods, recorded in the sacred books of the Hindoos, the Hebrews, and the Parses, are indeed events in real history, it follows that nature in those times was perfectly unlike the nature that we are acquainted with now; that men of the present age are totally different from the men that formerly existed; and, consequently, that we ought not to trouble our heads about them.
“On the contrary, if those miraculous facts have had no real existence in the physical order of things, they must be regarded solely as productions of the human intellect: and the nature of man, at this day, capable of making the most fantastic combinations, explains the phenomenon of those monsters in history. The only difficulty is to ascertain how and for what purpose the imagination invented them. If we examine with attention the subjects that are exhibited by them, if we analize the ideas which they combine and associate, and weigh with accuracy all their concomitant circumstances, we shall find a solution perfectly conformable to the laws of nature. Those fabulous stories have a figurative sense different from their apparent one, they are founded on simple and physical facts: but these facts, being ill conceived and erroneously represented, have been disfigured and changed from their original nature by accidental causes dependent on the human mind, by the confusion of signs made use of in the representation of objects, by the equivocation of words, the defeat of language, and the imperfection of writing. These Gods, for example, who act such singular parts in every system, are no other than the physical powers of nature, the elements, the winds, the meteors, the stars, all which have been personified by the necessary mechanism of language, and the manner in which objects are conceived by the understanding. Their life, their manners, their actions, are only the operation of the same powers, and the whole of their pretended history no more than a description of their various phenomena, traced by the first naturalist that observed them, but taken in a contrary sense by the vulgar who did not understand it, or by succeeding generations who forgot it. In a word, all the theological dogmas respecting the origin of the world, the nature of God, the revelation of his laws, the manifestation of his person, are but recitals of astronomical facts, figurative and emblematical narratives of the motion and influence of the heavenly bodies. The very idea itself of the Divinity, which is at present so obscure, abstracted, and metaphysical, was in its origin merely a composit of the powers of the material universe, considered sometimes analytically, as they appear in their agents and their phenomena, and sometimes synthetically, as forming one whole, and exhibiting an harmonious relation in all its parts. Thus the name God has been bestowed sometimes upon the wind, upon fire, water, and the elements; sometimes upon the sun, the stars, the planets, and their influences; sometimes upon the universe at large, and the matter of which the world is composed; sometimes upon abstract and metaphysical properties, such as space, duration, motion, and intelligence; but in every instance, the idea of a deity has not flowed from the miraculous revelation of an invisible world, but has been the natural result of human reflection, has followed the progress and undergone the changes of the successive improvement of intellect, and has had for its subject the visible universe and its different agents.
“It is then in vain that nations refer the origin of their religion to heavenly inspiration; it is in vain that they pretend to describe a supernatural state of things as first in the order of events: the original barbarous state of mankind, attested by their own monuments(41) , belies all their assertions. These assertions are still more victoriously refuted by considering this great principle, that man receives no ideas but through the medium of his senses(42) : for from hence it appears, that every system which ascribes human wisdom to any other source than experience and sensation, includes in it a υϛεϱον πϱο[Editor: illegible character]εϱον, and represents the last results of understanding as earliest in the order of time. If we examine the different religious systems which have been formed respecting the action of the Gods, and the origin of the world, we shall discover at every turn an anticipation in the order of narrating things, which could only be suggested by subsequent reflection. Reason, then, emboldened by these contradictions, hesitates not to reject whatever does not accord with the nature of things, and accepts nothing for historical truth that is not capable of being established by argument and ratiocination. Its ideas and suggestions are as follow:
“Before any nation received from a neighbour nation dogmas already invented; before one generation inherited the ideas of another, none of these complicated systems had existence. The first men, the children of nature, whose consciousness was anterior to experience, and who brought no preconceived knowledge into the world with them, were born without any idea of those articles of faith which are the result of learned contention; of those religious rites which had relation to arts and practices not yet in existence; of those precepts which suppose the passions already developed; of those laws which have reference to a language and a social order hereafter to be produced; of that God, whose attributes are abstractions of the knowledge of nature, and the idea of whose conduct is suggested by the experience of a despotic government; in fine, of that soul and those spiritual existences which are said not to be the object of the senses, but which, however, we must for ever have remained unacquainted with, if our senses had not introduced them to us. Previously to arriving at these notions, an immense catalogue of existing facts must have been observed. Man, originally savage, must have learned from repeated trials the use of his organs. Successive generations must have invented and refined upon the means of subsistence; and the understanding, at liberty to disengage itself from the wants of nature, must have risen to the complicated art of comparing ideas, digesting reasonings, and seizing upon abstract similitudes.
Origin of the idea of God: Worship of the elements, and the physical powers of nature.
“It was not till after having surmounted those obstacles, and run a long career in the night of history, that man, reflecting on his state, began to perceive his subjection to forces superior to his own and independent of his will. The sun gave him light and warmth; fire burned, thunder terrified, the winds buffetted, water overwhelmed him; all the various natural existences acted upon him in a manner not to be resisted. For a long time, an automaton, he remained passive, without enquiring into the cause of this action; but the very moment he was desirous of accounting to himself for it, astonishment seized his mind; and passing from the surprise of a first thought to the reverie of curiosity, he formed a chain of reasoning.
“At first, considering only the action of the elements upon him, he inferred, relatively to himself, an idea of weakness, of subjection, and relatively to them, an idea of power, of domination; and this idea was the primitive and fundamental type of all his conceptions of the Divinity.
“The action of the natural existences, in the second place, excited in him sensations of pleasure or pain, of good or evil; by virtue of his organization, he conceived love or aversion for them, he desired or dreaded their presence; and fear or hope was the principle of every idea of religion.
“Afterwards, judging every thing by comparison, and remarking in those beings a motion spontaneous like his own, he supposed there to be a will, an intelligence inherent in that motion, of a nature similar to what existed in himself; and hence, by way of inference, he started a fresh argument.—Having experienced that certain modes of behaviour towards his fellow-creatures wrought a change in their affections and governed their conduct, he applied those practices to the powerful beings of the universe. “When my fellow-creature of superior strength,” said he to himself, “is disposed to injure me, I humble myself before him, and my prayer has the art of appeasing him. I will pray to the powerful beings that strike me. I will supplicate the faculties of the winds, the planets, the waters, and they will hear me. I will conjure them to avert the calamities, and to grant me the blessings which are at their disposal. My tears will move, my offerings propitiate them, and I shall enjoy complete felicity.”
“And, simple in the infancy of his reason, man spoke to the sun and the moon, he animated with his understanding and his passions the great agents of nature; he thought by vain sounds and useless practices to change their inflexible laws. Fatal error! He desired that the water should ascend, the mountains be removed, the stone mount in the air; and substituting a fantastic to a real world, he constituted for himself beings of opinion, to the terror of his mind and the torment of his race.
“Thus the ideas of God and religion sprung, like all others, from physical objects, and were in the understanding of man the produce of his sensations, his wants, the circumstances of his life, and the progressive state of his knowledge.
“As these ideas had natural beings for their first models, it resulted from hence that the Divinity was originally as various and manifold as the forms under which he seemed to act: each being was a Power, a Genius, and the first men found the universe crowded with innumerable Gods.
“In like manner the ideas of the Divinity having had for motors the affections of the human heart, they underwent an order of division calculated from the sensations of pain and pleasure, of love and hatred: the powers of nature, the Gods, the Genii, were classed into benign and maleficent, into good and evil ones: and this constitutes the universality of these two ideas in every system of religion.
“These ideas, analogous to the condition of their inventors, were for a long time confused and gross. Wandering in woods, beset with wants, destitute of resources, men in their savage state had no leisure to make comparisons and draw conclusions. Suffering more ills than they tasted enjoyments, their most habitual sentiment was fear, their theology terror, their worship confined to certain modes of salutation, of offerings which they presented to beings whom they supposed to be ferocious and greedy like themselves. In their state of equality and independence, no one took upon him the office of mediator with Gods as insubordinate and poor as himself. No one having any superfluity to dispose of, there existed no parasite under the name of priest, nor tribute under the name of victim, nor empire under the name of altar; their dogma and morality, jumbled together, were only self preservation; and their religion, an arbitrary idea without influence on the mutual relations existing between men, was but a vain homage paid to the visible powers of nature.
“Such was the first and necessary origin of every idea of the Divinity.”
The orator then addressing the savage nations, said: “We appeal to you, who have received no foreign fictitious ideas, whether your conceptions have not been formed precisely in this manner? We ask you also, learned theologians, if such be not the unanimous record of all the monuments of antiquity(43) ?
Second system: Worship of the Stars, or Sabeism.
“But those same monuments offer us a more methodical and more complicated system, that of the worship of all the stars, adored at one time under their proper form, at another under emblems and figurative symbols. This worship was also the effect of the knowledge of man in physics, and derived immediately from the first causes of the social state; that is to say, from wants and arts of the first degree, the elements as it were in the formation of society.
“When men began to unite in society, they found it necessary to enlarge the means of their subsistence, and consequently to apply themselves to agriculture; and the practice of agriculture required the observation and knowledge of the heavens(44) . It was necessary to know the periodical return of the same operations of nature, the same phenomena of the skies; it was necessary to regulate the duration and succession of the seasons, months and year. In order to this it was requisite to become acquainted with the march of the sun, which in its zodiacal revolution showed itself the first and supreme agent of all creation; then of the moon, which by its changes and returns regulated and distributed time; finally of the stars, and even of the planets, which, by their appearance and disappearance on the horizon and the nocturnal hemisphere, formed the minutest divisions. In a word it was necessary to establish an entire system of astronomy, to form an almanac; and from this labour there quickly and spontaneously resulted a new manner of considering the dominant and governing powers. Having observed that the productions of the earth bore a regular and constant connection with the phenomena of the heavens; that the birth, growth, and decay of each plant, were allied to the appearance, exaltation and decline of the same planet, the same groupe of stars; in short, that the langour or activity of vegetation seemed to depend on celestial influences, men began to infer from this an idea of action, of power, in those bodies, superior to terrestrial beings; and the stars dispensing scarcity or abundance, became powers, Genii(45) , Gods, authors of good and evil.
“As the state of society had already introduced a methodical hierarchy of ranks, employments and conditions, men, continuing to reason from comparison, transferred their new acquired notions to their theology, and the result was a complicated system of gradual Divinities, in which the sun, as the first God, was a military chief, a political king; the moon, a queen, his consort; the planets, servants, bearers of commands, messengers: and the multitude of stars, a nation, an army of heroes, of Genii, appointed to govern the world under the command of their officers; every individual had a name, functions, attributes, drawn from its connections and influences, and even a sex derived from the gender of its appellation(46) .
“As the state of society had introduced certain usages and complex practices, worship, leading the van, adopted similar ones. Ceremonies, simple and private at first, became public and solemn; offerings were more rich and more numerous; rites more methodical; places of assembly, chapels and temples were erected; officers, pontiffs, created to administer; forms and epochas were settled; and religion became a civil act, a political tie. But in this developement it altered not its first principles, and the idea of God was still that of physical beings, operating good or ill, that is to say, impressing sensations of pain or pleasure: the dogma was the knowledge of their laws or modes of acting; virtue and sin the observance or infringement of those laws; and morality, in its native simplicity, a judicious practice of all that is conducive to the preservation of existence, to the well-being of the individual and of his fellow-creatures(47) .
“Should it be asked at what epoch this system took birth, we shall answer, supported by the authority of the monuments of astronomy itself, that its principles can be traced back with certainty to a period of nearly seventeen thousand years(48) . Should we farther be asked to what people or nation it ought to be attributed, we shall reply, that those self-same monuments, seconded by unanimous tradition, attribute it to the first tribes of Egypt. And when reason finds in that region a concurrence of all the physical circumstances calculated to give rise to it; when it finds at once a zone of heaven, in vicinity of the tropic, equally free from the rains of the equator, and the fogs of the north(49) ; when it finds there the central point of the antique sphere; a salubrious climate; an immense yet manageable river; a land fertile without art, without fatigue; inundated, without pestilential exhalations; situate between two seas which lave the shores of the richest countries—it becomes manifest that the inhabitant of the districts of the Nile, inclined to agriculture from the nature of his soil; to commerce, from the facility of communication; to geometry, from the annual necessity of measuring his possessions; to astronomy, from the state of his heaven, ever open to observation, must first have passed from the savage to the social state, and consequently attained that physical and moral knowledge proper to civilized man.
“It was thus, upon the distant shores of the Nile, and among a nation of fable complexion, that the complex system of the worship of the stars, as connected with the produce of the soil and the labours of agriculture, was constructed. The worship of the stars under their proper forms, or their natural attributes, was a simple process of the human understanding; but in a short time the multiplicity of objects, their relations, their action and re-action, having confounded the ideas and the signs that represented them, a consequence resulted as absurd in its nature as pernicious in its tendency.
Third System: Worship of symbols, or idolatry.
“From the instant this agricolar race had turned an eye of observation on the stars, they found it necessary to distinguish individuals or groupes, and to assign to each a proper name. A considerable difficulty here presented itself; for on the one hand, the celestial bodies, similar in form, offered no peculiar character by which to denominate them; and on the other hand, language, poor and in a state of infancy, had no expressions for so many new and metaphysical ideas. The usual stimulus of genius, necessity, conquered all obstacles. Having remarked that in the annual revolution, the renewal and periodical appearance of the productions of the earth were constantly connected with the rising and setting of certain stars, and with their position relatively to the sun, the mind, by a natural mechanism, associated in its thought terrestrial and celestial objects, which had in fact a certain alliance; and applying to them the same sign, it gave to the stars and the groupes it formed of them, the very names of the terrestrial objects to which they bore affinity(50) .
“Thus the Ethiopian of Thebes called stars of inundation, or of Aquarius, those under which the river began to overflow* ; stars of the ox or bull, those under which it was convenient to plough the earth; stars of the lion, those under which that animal, driven by thirst from the deserts, made his appearance on the banks of the Nile; stars of the sheaf, or of the harvest maid, those under which the harvests were got in; stars of the lambs, stars of the goat, those under which those valuable animals brought forth their young; and thus was a first part of the difficulty resolved.
“On the other hand, man, having remarked in the beings that surrounded him certain qualities peculiar to each species, and having invented a name by which to design them, speedily discovered an ingenious mode of generalizing his ideas, and transferring the name already invented to every thing bearing a similar or analogous property or agency, enriched his language with a multiplicity of metaphors and tropes.
“Thus the same Ethiopian, having observed that the return of the inundation answered constantly to the appearance of a very beautiful star towards the source of the Nile, which seemed to warn the husbandman against being surprised by the waters, he compared this action with that of the animal who by barking gives notice of danger, and called this star the dog, the barker (Syrius). In the same manner he called stars of the crab, those which showed themselves when the sun, having reached the bounds of the tropic, returned backwards and sideways like the crab or Cancer; stars of the wild goat, those which, the sun being arrived at its greatest altitude, at the top of the horary gnomon, imitated the action of that animal who delights in climbing the highest rocks; stars of the balance, those which, the days and nights being of the same length, seemed to observe an equilibrium like that instrument; stars of the scorpion, those which were perceptible when certain regular winds brought a burning vapour like the poison of the scorpion. In the same manner he called by the name of rings and serpents the figured traces of the orbits of the stars and planets(51) ; and this was the general means of appellation of all the heavenly bodies, taken in groupes or individually, according to their connection with rural and terrestrial operations, and the analogies which every nation found them to bear to the labours of the field and the objects of their climate and soil.
“From this proceeding it resulted, that abject and terrestrial beings entered into association with the superior and powerful beings of the heavens; and this association became more rivetted every day by the very constitution of language and the mechanism of the mind. Men would say, by a natural metaphor: “The bull spreads upon the earth the germins of fecundity (in spring); and brings back abundance by the revival of vegetation. The lamb (or ram) delivers the heavens from the malevolent Genii of winter; and saves the world from the serpent (emblem of the wet season). The scorpion pours out his venom upon the earth, and spreads diseases and death, &c.”
“This language, understood by every body, was at first attended with no inconvenience; but, in process of time, when the almanac had been regulated, the people, who could do without further observation of the skies, lost sight of the motive which led to the adoption of these expressions; and the allegory still remaining in the practices of life, became a fatal stumbling-block to the understanding and reason. Habituated to join to symbols the ideas of their models, the mind finally confounded them; then those same animals which the imagination had raised to heaven, descended again on the earth; but in this return, decked in the livery and invested with the attributes of the stars, they imposed upon their own authors. The people, imagining that they saw their Gods before them, found it a more easy task to offer up their prayers. They demanded of the ram of their flock, the influence which they expected from the celestial ram; they prayed the scorpion not to pour out his venom upon Nature; they revered the fish of the river, the crab of the sea, and the scarabeus of the slime; and by a series of corrupt, but inseparable analogies, they lost themselves in a labyrinth of consequent absurdities.
“Such was the origin of this ancient and singular worship of animals; such the train of ideas by which the character of the Divinity became common to the meanest of the brute creation; and thus was formed the vast, complicated, and learned theological system which, from the banks of the Nile, conveyed from country to country by commerce, war, and conquest, invaded all the old world; and which, modified by times, by circumstances, and by prejudices, is still to be found among a hundred nations, and subsists to this day as the secret and inseparable basis of the theology of those even who despise and reject it.”
At these words, murmurs being heard in various groupes: “I repeat it,” continued the orator. “People of Africa! hence, for example, has arisen among you the adoration of your Feteches, plants, animals, pebbles, bits of wood, before which your ancestors would never have been so absurd as to prostrate themselves, if they had not seen in them talismans, partaking of the nature of the stars(52) . Nations of Tartary! this is equally the origin of your Marmouzets, and of the whole train of animals with which your Chamans ornament their magic robes. This is the origin of those figures of birds and serpents, which all the savage nations, with mystic and sacred ceremonies, imprint on their skin. Indians! it is in vain you cover yourselves with the veil of mystery: the hawk of your God Vichenou is but one of the thousand emblems of the sun in Egypt, and his incarnations in a fish, boar, lion, turtle, together with all his monstrous adventures, are nothing more than the metamorphoses of the same star, which, passing successively through the signs of the twelve animals* , was supposed to assume their forms, and to act their astronomical parts(53) . Japanese! your bull which breaks the egg of the world, is merely that of the heavens, which, in times of yore, opened the age of the creation, the equinox of Spring. Rabbins, Jews! that same bull is the Apis worshipped in Egypt, and which your ancestors adored in the idol of the golden calf. It is also your bull, children of Zoroaster! that, sacrificed in the symbolic mysteries of Mithra, shed a blood fertilizing to the world. Lastly, your bull of the Apocalypse, Christians! with his wings, the symbol of the air, has no other origin: your lamb of God, immolated, like the bull of Mithra, for the salvation of the world, is the self-same sun in the sign of the celestial ram, which, in a subsequent age, opening the equinox in his turn, was deemed to have rid the world of the reign of evil, that is to say, of the serpent, of the large snake, the mother of winter and emblem of the Ahrimanes or Satan of the Persians, your institutors. Yes, vainly does your imprudent zeal consign idolaters to the torments of the Tartarus which they have invented: the whole basis of your system is nothing more than the worship of the star of day, whose attributes you have heaped upon your chief personage. It is the sun which, under the name of Orus, was born, like your God, in the arms of the celestial virgin, and passed through an obscure, indigent, and destitute childhood, answering to the season of cold and frost. It is the sun, which, under the name of Osiris, persecuted by Typhon and the tyrants of the air, was put to death, laid in a dark tomb, the emblem of the hemisphere of winter, and which, rising afterwards from the inferior zone to the highest point of the heavens, awoke triumphant over giants and the destroying angels. Ye priests! from whom the murmurs proceed, you wear yourselves its signs all over your bodies. Your tonsure is the disk of the sun; your stole its Zodiac(54) ; your rosaries the symbols of the stars and planets. Pontiffs and prelates! your mitre, your crosier, your mantle, are the emblems of Osiris; and that crucifix of which you boast the mystery, without comprehending it, is the cross of Serapis, traced by the hands of Egyptian priests on the plan of the figurative world, which, passing through the equinoxes and the tropics, became the emblem of future life and resurrection, because it touched the gates of ivory and horn through which the soul was to pass in its way to heaven.”
Here the doctors of the different groupes looked with astonishment at one another, but none of them breaking silence, the orator continued.
“Three principal causes concurred to produce this confusion of ideas. First, the necessity, on account of the infant state of language, of making use of figurative expressions to depict the relations of things; expressions that, passing afterwards from a proper to a general, from a physical to a moral sense, occasioned, by their equivocal and synonymous terms, a multiplicity of mistakes.
“Thus having at first said, that the sun surmounted and passed in its course through the twelve animals, they afterwards supposed that it combated, conquered, and killed them, and from this was composed the historical life of Hercules.
“Having said that it regulated the period of rural operations, of seed time and of harvest; that it distributed the seasons, ran through the climates, swayed the earth, &c. it was taken for a legislative king, a conquering warrior, and hence they formed the stories of Osiris, of Bacchus, and other similar Gods.
“Having said that a planet entered into a sign, the conjunction was denominated a marriage, adultery, incest(55) : having farther said, that it was buried, because it sunk below the horizon, returned to light and gained its state of eminence, they gave it the epithet of dead, risen again, carried into heaven, &c.
“The second cause of confusion was the material figures themselves, by which thoughts were originally painted, and which, under the name of hieroglyphics, or sacred characters, were the first invention of the mind. Thus to denote an inundation, and the necessity of preserving one’s-self from it, they painted a boat, the vessel Argo; to express the wind, they painted a bird’s wing; to specify the season, the month, they delineated the bird of passage, insect, or animal, which made its appearance at that epoch; to express winter they drew a hog, or a serpent, which are fond of moist and miry places. The combination of these figures had also a meaning, and was substituted for words and phrases*(56) . But as there was nothing fixed or precise in this sort of language, as the number of those figures and their combinations became excessive and burdensome to the memory, confusions and false interpretations were the first and obvious result. Genius having afterwards invented the more simple art of applying signs to sounds, of which the number is limited, and of painting the word instead of the thought, hieroglyphic pictures were, by means of alphabetical writing, brought into disuse; and from day to day their forgotten significations made way for a variety of illusions, equivoques, and errors.
“Lastly, the civil organization of the first states was a third cause of confusion. Indeed, when the people began to apply themselves to agriculture, the formation of the rural calendar requiring continual astronomical observations, it was necessary to chuse individuals whose province it should be to watch the appearance and setting of certain stars, to give notice of the return of the inundation, of particular winds and rains, and the proper time for sowing every species of grain. These men, on account of their office, were exempted from the common occupations, and the society provided for their subsistence. In this situation, solely occupied in making observations, they soon penetrated the great phenomena of nature, and dived into the secret of various of her operations. They became acquainted with the course of the stars and planets; the connection which their absence and return had with the productions of the earth and the activity of vegetation: the medicinal or nutritive properties of fruits and plants; the action of the elements, and their reciprocal affinities. But, as there were no means of communicating this knowledge otherwise than by the painful and laborious one of oral instruction, they imparted it only to their friends and kindred; and hence resulted a concentration of science in certain families, who, on this account assumed to themselves exclusive privileges, and a spirit of corporation and separate distinction fatal to the public weal. By this continued succession of the same labours and enquiries, the progress of knowledge it is true was hastened, but, by the mystery that accompanied it, the people, plunged daily in the thickest darkness, became more superstitious and more slavish. Seeing human beings produce certain phenomena, announce, as it were at will, eclipses and comets, cure diseases, handle noxious serpents, they supposed them to have intercourse with celestial powers; and, to obtain the good or have the ills averted which they expected from those powers, they adopted these extraordinary human beings as mediators and interpreters. And thus were established in the very bosom of states sacrilegious corporations of hypocritical and deceitful men, who arrogated to themselves every kind of power; and priests, being at once astronomers, divines, naturalists, physicians, necromancers, interpreters of the Gods, oracles of the people, rivals of kings or their accomplices, instituted under the name of religion an empire of mystery, which to this very hour has proved ruinous to the nations of mankind.”
At these words the priests of all the groupes interrupted the orator; with loud cries, they accused him of impiety, irreligion, blasphemy, and were unwilling he should proceed: but the legislators having observed, that what he related was merely a narrative of historical facts; that if those facts were false or forged, it would be an easy matter to refute them; and that if every one were not allowed the perfect liberty to declare his opinion, it would be impossible to arrive at truth—he thus went on with his discourse.
“From all these causes, and the perpetual association of dissimilar ideas, there followed a strange mass of disorders in theology, morality, and tradition. And first, because the stars were represented by animals, the qualities of the animals, their likings, their sympathies, their aversions, were transferred to the Gods and supposed to be their actions. Thus the God Ichneumon made war against the God crocodile; the God wolf wanted to eat the God sheep; the God stork devoured the God serpent; and the Deity became a strange, whimsical, ferocious being, whose idea misled the judgment of man, and corrupted both his morals and his reason.
“Again, as every family, every nation, in the spirit of its worship adopted a particular star or constellation for its patron, the affections and antipathies of the emblematical brute were transferred to the sectaries of this worship; and the partisans of the God dog were enemies to those of the God wolf; the worshippers of the God bull, abhorred those who fed upon beef, and religion became the author of combats and animosities, the senseless cause of frenzy and superstition(57) .
“Farther, the names of the animal stars having, on account of this same patronage, been conferred on nations, countries, mountains, and rivers, those objects were also taken for Gods; and hence there arose a medley of geographical, historical, and mythological beings, by which all tradition was involved in confusion.
“In fine, from the analogy of their supposed actions the planetary gods having been taken for men, heroes, and kings; kings and heroes took in their turn the actions of the Gods for models, and became, from imitation, warlike, conquering, sanguinary, proud, lascivious, indolent; and religion consecrated the crimes of despots, and perverted the principles of governments.
Fourth system: Worship of two principles, or Dualism.
“Meanwhile the astronomical priests, enjoying in their temples peace and abundance, made every day fresh progress in the sciences; and the system of the world gradually displaying itself before their eyes, they started successively various hypotheses as to its agents and effects, which became so many systems of theology.
“The navigators of the maritime nations, and the caravans of the Asiatic and African Nomades, having given them a knowledge of the earth from the Fortunate Islands to Serica, and from the Baltic to the sources of the Nile, they discovered, by a comparison of the different Zones, the rotundity of the globe, which gave rise to a new theory. Observing that all the operations of Nature, during the annual period, were summed up in two principal ones, that of producing and that of destroying; that upon the major part of the globe, each of these operations was equally accomplished from one to the other equinox; that is to say, that during the six months of summer all was in a state of procreation and increase, and during the six months of winter all in a state of languor and nearly dead, they supposed nature to contain two contrary powers always struggling with and resisting each other; and considering in the same light the celestial sphere, they divided the pictures, by which they represented it into two halves or hemispheres, so that those constellations which appeared in the summer heaven formed a direct and superior empire, and those in the winter heaven an opposite and inferior one. Now as the summer constellations were accompanied with the season of long, warm, and unclouded days, together with that of fruits and harvests, they were deemed to be the powers of light, fecundity, and creation; and by transition from a physical to a moral sense, to be Genii, angels of science, beneficence, purity, virtue: in like manner the winter constellations, being attended with long nights and the polar fogs, were regarded as genii of darkness, destruction, death, and, by similar transition, as angels of wickedness, ignorance, sin, vice. By this disposal, heaven was divided into two domains, two factions; and the analogy of human ideas opened already a vast career to the flights of imagination; but a particular circumstance determined, if it did not occasion the mistake and illusion. (Consult Plate II. at the end of the volume.)
“In the projection of the celestial sphere drawn by astronomical priests(58) , the Zodiac and the constellations disposed in a circular order, presented their halves in diametrical opposition: the winter hemisphere was adverse, contrary, opposite to, being the Antipodes of, that of summer. By the continued metaphor these words were converted into a moral sense, and the adverse angels and Genii became rebels and enemies(59) . From that period the whole astronomical history of the constellations was turned into a political history; the heavens became a human state, where every thing happened as it does on earth. Now as the existing states, for the most part despotic, had their monarchs, and as the sun was the apparent sovereign of the skies, the summer hemisphere (empire of light), and its constellations (a nation of white angels), had for king an enlightened, intelligent, creative, benign God; and as every rebellious faction must have its chief, the hemisphere of winter (the subterraneous empire of darkness and woe), together with its stars (a nation of black angels, giants, or demons), had for leader a malignant Genius, whose part was assigned, by the different people of the earth, to that star which appeared to them the most remarkable. In Egypt it was origiginally the Scorpion, the first sign of the Zodiac after the Balance, and the hoary chief of the wintry signs: then it was the bear or the polar ass, called Typhon, that is to say, deluge(60) , on account of the rains which poured down upon the earth during the dominion of that star. In Persia, at a subsequent period(61) , it was the serpent, which, under the name of Ahrimanes, formed the basis of the system of Zoroaster; and it is the same, Christians and Jews, that is become your serpent of Eve (the celestial origin), and that of the cross; in both cases the emblem of Satan, the great adversary of the Ancient of Days, sung by Daniel. In Syria it was the hog or wild boar, enemy of Adonis, because in that country the office of the Northern bear was made to devolve upon the animal whose fondness for mire and dirt is emblematical of winter. And it is for this reason that you, children of Moses and of Mahomet, hold this animal in abhorrence, in imitation of the priests of Memphis and Balbec, who detested him as the murderer of their God the sun. This is likewise, O Indians! the type of your Chib-en, which was once the Pluto of your brethren the Greeks and Romans; your Brama also (God the creator), is only the Persian Ormuzd, and the Osiris of Egypt, whose very name expresses a creative power, producer of forms. And these Gods were worshipped in a manner analogous to their real or fictitious attributes; and this worship, on account of the difference of its objects, was divided into two distinct branches. In one, the benign God received a worship of joy and love; whence are derived all religious acts of a gay nature(62) , festivals, dances, banquets, offerings of flowers, milk, honey, perfumes; in a word, of every thing that delights the senses and the soul. In the other, the malign God, on the contrary, received a worship of fear and pain; whence originated all religious acts of the sombre kind(63) , tears, grief, mourning, self-denial, blood-offerings, and cruel sacrifices.
“From the same source flowed the division of terrestrial beings into pure and impure, sacred or abominable, according as their species was sound among the respective constellations of the two Gods, and made a part of their domains. This produced, on one hand, the superstitions of pollution and purification; and on the other, the pretended efficacious virtues of amulets and talismans.
“You now understand,” continued the orator, addressing himself to the Indians, Persians, Jews, Christians and Mussulmans, “you now understand the origin of those ideas of combats and rebellion, which equally pervade your respective mythology. You perceive what is meant by white and black angels; by the cherubs and seraphs with heads of an eagle, a lion or a bull; the Deus, devils or demons with horns of goats and tails of snakes; the thrones and dominions, ranged in seven orders or gradations, like the seven spheres of the planets; all of them beings acting the same parts, partaking of the same attributes in the Vedas, the Bibles, or the Zendavesta; whether their chief be Ormuzd or Brama, Typhon or Chib-en, Michael or Satan; whether their form be that of giants with a hundred arms and feet of serpents, or that of Gods metamorphosed into lions, storks, bulls and cats, as they appear in the sacred tales of the Greeks and Egyptians: you perceive the successive genealogy of these ideas, and how in proportion to their remoteness from their sources, and as the mind of man became refined, their gross forms were purified, and reduced to a state less shocking and repulsive.
“But, just as the system of two opposite principles or deities originated in that of symbols; in the same manner you will find a new system spring out of this, to which it served in its turn as a foundation and support.”
Mystical or moral worship, or the system of a future state.
“In reality, when the vulgar heard talk of a new heaven and another world, they soon gave a body to these fictions; they erected on it a solid stage and real scenes; and their notions of geography and astronomy served to strengthen, if they did not give rise to the allusion.
“On the one hand, the Phenician navigators, those who passed the pillars of Hercules to fetch the pewter of Thule and the amber of the Baltic, related that at the extremity of the world, the boundaries of the ocean (the Mediterranean), where the sun sets to the countries of Asia, there were fortunate Islands, the abode of an everlasting spring; and at a farther distance, hyperborean regions, placed under the earth (relatively to the tropics), where reigned an eternal night* . From these stories, badly understood, and no doubt confusedly related, the imagination of the people composed the Elysian Fields(64) , delightful sports in a world below, having their heaven, their sun and their stars; and Tartarus, a place of darkness, humidity, mire, and chilling frost. Now, inasmuch as mankind, inquisitive about all that of which they are ignorant, and desirous of a protracted existence, had already exerted their faculties respecting what was to become of them after death; inasmuch as they had early reasoned upon that principle of life which animates the body, and which quits it without changing the form of the body, and had conceived to themselves airy substances, phantoms and shades, they loved to believe that they should resume in the subterranean world that life which it was so painful to lose; and this abode appeared commodious for the reception of those beloved objects which they could not prevail on themselves to renounce.
“On the other hand, the astrological and philosophical priests told such stories of their heavens as perfectly quadrated with these fictions. Having, in their metaphorical language, denominated the equinoxes and solstices the gates of heaven, or the entrance of the seasons, they explained the terrestrial phenomena by saying, that through the gate of horn (first the bull, afterwards the ram), vivifying fires descended, which, in spring, gave life to vegetation, and aquatic Spirits, which caused, at the solstice, the overflowing of the Nile: that through the gate of ivory (originally the Bowman, or Sagittarius, then the Balance) and through that of Capricorn, or the urn, the emanations or influences of the heavens returned to their source and reascended to their origin; and the milky Way which passed through the doors of the solstices, seemed to them to have been placed there on purpose to be their road and vehicle(65) . The celestial scene farther presented, according to their Atlas, a river (the Nile, designated by the windings of the Hydra); together with a barge (the vessel Argo), and the dog Sirius, both bearing relation to that river of which they forboded the overflowing. These circumstances added to the preceding ones, increased the probability of the fiction; and thus, to arrive at Tartarus or Elysium, souls were obliged to cross the rivers Styx and Acheron, in the boat of Charon the ferryman, and to pass through the doors of horn and ivory, which were guarded by the mastiff Cerberus. At length a civil usage was joined to all these inventions, and gave them consistency.
“The inhabitants of Egypt having remarked that the putrefaction of dead bodies became in their burning climate the source of pestilence and diseases, the custom was introduced in a great number of states, of burying the dead at a distance from the inhabited districts, in the desert which lies at the West. To arrive there it was necessary to cross the canals of the river in a boat, and to pay a toll to the ferryman, otherwise the body, remaining unburied, would have been left a prey to wild beasts. This custom suggested to her civil and religious legislators, a powerful means of affecting the manners of her inhabitants; and addressing savage and uncultivated men with the motives of filial piety and reverence for the dead, they introduced, as a necessary condition, the undergoing that previous trial which should decide whether the deceased deserved to be admitted upon the footing of his family honours into the black city. Such an idea too well accorded with the rest of the business not to be incorporated with it: it accordingly entered for an article into religious creeds, and hell had its Minos and its Radamanthus, with the wand, the chair, the guards and the urn, after the exact model of this civil transaction. The Divinity then, for the first time, became a subject of moral and political consideration, a legislator, by so much the more formidable as, while his judgment was final and his decrees without appeal, he was unapproachable to his subjects. This mythological and fabulous creation, composed as it was of scattered and discordant parts, then became a source of future punishments and rewards, in which divine justice was supposed to correct the vices and errors of this transitory state. A spiritual and mystical system, such as I have mentioned, acquired so much the more credit as it applied itself to the mind by every argument suited to it. The oppressed looked thither for an indemnification; and entertained the consoling hope of vengeance; the oppressor expected by the costliness of his offerings to secure to himself impunity, and at the same time employed this principle to inspire the vulgar with timidity: kings and priests, the heads of the people, saw in it a new source of power, as they reserved to themselves the privilege of awarding the favours or the censure of the great judge of all, according to the opinion they should inculcate of the odiousness of crimes and the meritoriousness of virtue.
“Thus, then, an invisible and imaginary world entered into competition with that which was real. Such, O Persians, was the origin of your renovated earth, your city of resurrection, placed under the equator, and distinguished from all other cities by this singular attribute, that the bodies of its inhabitants cast no shade(66) . Such, O Jews and Christians, disciples of the Persians, was the source of your new Jerusalem, your paradise and your heaven, modelled upon the astrological heaven of Hermes. Meanwhile, your hell, O ye Mussulmans, a subterraneous pit surmounted by a bridge, your balance of souls and good works, your judgment pronounced by the angels Monkir and Nekir, derives its attributes from the mysterious ceremonies of the cave of Mithra(67) ; and your heaven is exactly coincident with that of Osiris, Ormudz and Brama.”
Sixth System: The animated world, or worship of the universe under different emblems.
“WHILE the nations were losing themselves in the dark labyrinth of mythology and fables, the physiological priests, pursuing their studies and enquiries about the order and disposition of the universe, came to fresh results, and set up fresh systems of powers and moving causes.
“Long consined to simple appearances, they had only seen in the motion of the stars an unknown play of luminous bodies, which they supposed to roll round the earth, the central point of all the spheres; but from the moment they had discovered the rotundity of our planet, the consequences of this first fact led them to other considerations, and from inference to inference they rose to the highest conceptions of astronomy and physics.
“In truth, having conceived the enlightened and simple idea, that the celestial globe is a small circle inscribed in the greater circle of the heavens, the theory of the concentral [ ] circles naturally presented itself to their hypothesis, to resolve the unknown circle of the terrestrial globe by known points of the celestial circle; and the measure of one or several degrees of the meridian, gave precisely the total circumference. Then taking for compass the diameter of the earth, a fortunate genius described with auspicious boldness the immense orbits of the heavens; and, by an unheard of abstraction, man, who scarcely peoples the grain of sand of which he is the inhabitant, embraced the infinite distances of the stars, and launched himself into the abyss of space and duration. There a new order of the universe presented itself, of which the petty globe that he inhabited no longer appeared to him to be the center: this important part was transferred to the enormous mass of the sun, which became the inflamed pivot of eight circumjacent spheres, the movements of which were henceforward submitted to exact calculation.
“The human mind had already done a great deal, by undertaking to resolve the disposition and order of the great beings of nature; but not contented with this first effort, it wished also to resolve its mechanism, and discover its origin and motive principle. And here it is that, involved in the abstract and metaphysical depths of motion and its first cause, of the inherent or communicated properties of matter, together with its successive forms and extent, or, in other words, of boundless space and time, these physiological divines lost themselves in a chaos of subtle argument and scholastic controversy.
“The action of the sun upon terrestrial bodies, having first led them to consider its substance as pure and elementary fire, they made it the focus and reservoir of an ocean of igneous and luminous fluid, which, under the name of ether, filled the universe, and nourished the beings contained therein. They afterwards discovered, by the analysis of a more accurate philosophy, this fire, or a fire similar to it, entering into the composition of all bodies, and perceived that it was the grand agent in that spontaneous motion, which in animals is denominated life, and in plants vegetation. From hence they were led to conceive of the mechanism and action of the universe, as of a homogeneous whole, a single body, whose parts, however distant in place, had a reciprocal connection with each other(69) ; and of the world as a living substance, animated by the organical circulation of an ingneous or rather electrical fluid(70) , which, by an analogy borrowed from men and animals, was supposed to have the sun for its heart(71) .
“Meanwhile, among the theological philosophers, one sect beginning from these principles, the result of experiment, said: That nothing was annihilated in the world; that the elements were unperishable; that they changed their combinations, but not their nature; that the life and death of beings were nothing more than the varied modifications of the same atoms; that matter contained in itself properties, which were the cause of all its modes of existing; that the world was eternal(72) , having no bounds either of space or duration. Others said: That the whole universe was God; and, according to them, God was at once effect and cause, agent and patient, moving principle and thing moved, having for laws the invariable properties which constitute fatality; and they designated their idea sometimes by the emblem of Pan (the great all); or of Jupiter, with a starry front, a planetary body, and feet of animals; or by the symbol of the Orphic egg* , whose yolk suspended in the middle of a liquid encompassed by a vault, represented the globe of the sun swimming in ether in the middle of the vault of heaven(73) ; or by the emblem of a large round serpent, figurative of the heavens, where they placed the first princicle of motion, and for that reason of an azure colour, studded with gold spots (the stars), and devouring his tail, that is, re-entering into himself, by winding continually like the revolutions of the spheres; or by the emblem of a man, with his feet pressed and tied together to denote immutable existence, covered with a mantle of all colours, like the appearance of nature, and wearing on his head a sphere of gold(74) , figurative of the sphere of the planets; or by that of another man sometimes seated upon the flower of Lotos, borne upon the abyss of the waters, at others reclined upon a pile of twelve cushions, signifying the twelve celestial signs. And this, O nations of India, Japan, Siam, Thibet, and China, is the theology, which, invented by the Egyptians, has, been transmitted down and preserved among yourselves, in the pictures you give of Brama, Beddou, Sommanacodom, and Omito. This, O ye Jews and Christians, is the counterpart of an opinion, of which you have retained a certain portion, when you describe God as the breath of life moving upon the face of the waters, alluding to the wind(75) , which at the origin of the world, that is, at the departure of the spheres from the sign of the Crab, announced the overflowing of the Nile, and seemed to be the preliminary of creation.”
Seventh System: Worship of theSoulof theWorld,that is, the element of fire, the vital principle of the universe.
“BUT a third set of the theological philosophers, disgusted with the idea of a being at once effect and cause, agent and patient, and uniting in one and the same nature all contrary attributes, distinguished the moving principle from the thing moved; and laying it down as a datum that matter was in itself inert, they pretended that it received its properties from a distinct agent of which it was only the envelope or case. Some made this agent the igneous principle, the acknowledged author of all motion; others made it the fluid called ether, because it was thought to be more active and subtile: now, as they denominated the vital and motive principle in animals, a soul, a spirit; and as they always reasoned by comparison, and particularly by comparison with human existence, they gave to the motive principle of the whole universe the name of soul, intelligence, spirit; and God was the vital spirit, which, diffused through all beings, animated the vast body of the world. This idea was represented sometimes by You-piter, essence of motion and animation, principle of existence, or rather existence itself(76) ; at other times by Vulcan, or Phtha, elementary principle of fire, or by the altar of Vesta, placed centrally in her temple, like the sun in the spheres; and again by Kneph, a human being dressed in deep blue, holding in his hands a sceptre and a girdle (the Zodiac), wearing on his head a cap with feathers, to express the fugacity of thought, and producing from his mouth the great egg(77) .
“As a consequence from this system, every being containing in itself a portion of the igneous or etherial fluid, the universal and common mover, and that fluid, soul of the world, being the Deity, it followed that the souls of all beings were a part of God himself, partaking of all his attributes, that is, being an indivisible, simple, and immortal substance; and hence is derived the whole system of the immortality of the soul, which at first was eternity(78) . Hence also its transmigrations known by the name of metempsychosis, that is to say, passage of the vital principle from one body to another; an idea which sprung from the real transmigration of the material elements. Such, O Indians, Budsoists, Christians, Mussulmans, was the origin of all your ideas of the spirituality of the soul! Such was the source of the reveries of Pythagoras and Plato, your institutors, and who were themselves but the echoes of another, the last sect of visionary philosophers that it is necessary to examine.
Eighth system: The world a machine: worship of the Demi-ourgos, or supreme artificer.
“Hitherto the theologians, in exercising their faculties on the detached and subtile substances of ether and the igneous principle, had not however ceased to treat of existences palpable and perceptible to the senses, and their theology had continued to be the theory of physical powers, placed sometimes exclusively in the stars, and sometimes disseminated through the universe. But at the period at which we are arrived, some superficial minds, losing the chain of ideas which had directed these profound enquiries, or ignorant of the facts which served as their basis, rendered abortive all the results that had been obtained from them, by the introduction of a strange and novel chimera. They pretended that the universe, the heavens, the stars, the sun, differed in no respect from an ordinary machine; and applying to this hypothesis a comparison drawn from the works of art, they erected an edifice of the most whimsical sophisms. “A machine,” said they, “cannot form itself, there must be a workman to construct it; its very existence implies this. The world is a machine: it has therefore an artificer(79) .”
“Hence the Demi-ourgos, or supreme artificer, the autocrator and sovereign of the universe. It was in vain that the ancient philosophy objected to the hypothesis, that this artificer did not stand in less need of parents and an author, and that a scheme, which added only one link to the chain by taking the attribute of eternity from the world and giving it to the creator, was of little value. These innovators, not contented with a first paradox, added a second, and applying to their artificer the theory of human understanding, pretended that the Demi-ourgos fashioned his machine upon an archetype or idea extant in his mind. In a word, just as their masters, the natural philosophers, had placed the primum mobile in the sphere of the fixed stars, under the appellation of intelligence and reason, so their apes, the spiritualists, adopting the same principle, made it an attribute of the Demi-ourgos, representing this being as a distinct substance, necessarily existing, to which they applied the terms of Mens or Logos, in other words, understanding and speech. Separately from this being, they held the existence of a solar principle, or soul of the world, which, taken with the preceding, made three gradations of divine personages; first, the Demi-ourgos, or supreme artificer; secondly, the Logos, understanding or speech: and thirdly, the spirit or soul of the world(80) . And this, O Christians, is the fiction on which you have founded your doctrine of the Trinity; this is the system, which, born a Heretic in the Egyptian temples, transmitted a Heathen to the schools of Greece and Italy, is now Catholic or Orthodox by the conversion of its partisans, the disciples of Pythagoras and Plato, to Christianity.
“Thus the Deity, after having been originally considered as the sensible and various action of meteors and the elements; then as the combined power of the stars, considered in their relation to terrestrial objects; then as those terrestrial objects themselves, in consequence of confounding symbols with the things they represented; then as the complex power of Nature, in her two principal operations of production and destruction; then as the animated world without distinction of agent and patient, cause and effect; then as the solar principle or element of fire acknowledged as the sole cause of motion—the Deity, I say, considered under all these different views, became at last a chimerical and abstract being; a scholastic subtlety of substance without form, of body without figure; a true delirium of the mind beyond the power of reason at all to comprehend. But in this its last transformation, it seeks in vain to conceal itself from the senses: the seal of its origin is indelibly stamped upon it. All its attributes, borrowed from the physical attributes of the universe, as immensity, eternity, indivisibility, incomprehensibleness; or from the moral qualities of man, as goodness, justice, majesty; and its very names(81) , derived from the physical beings which were its types, particularly the sun, the planets, and the world, present to us continually, in spite of those who would corrupt and disguise it, infallible marks of its genuine nature.
“Such is the chain of ideas through which the human mind had already run at a period anterior to the positive recitals of history; and since their systematic form proves them to have been the result of one scene of study and investigation, every thing inclines us to place the theatre of investigation, where its primitive elements were generated, in Egypt. There their progress was rapid, because the idle curiosity of the theological philosophers had, in the retirement of the temples, no other food than the enigma of the universe, which was ever present to their minds; and because, in the political diffentions which long disunited that country, each state had its college of priests, who, being in turns auxiliaries or rivals, hastened by their disputes the progress of science and discovery(82) .
“On the borders of the Nile there happened at that distant period, what has since been repeated all over the globe. In proportion as each system was formed, it excited by its novelty quarrels and schisms: then, gaining credit even by persecution, it either destroyed anterior ideas, or incorporated itself with and modified them. But political institutions taking place, all opinions, by the aggregation of states and mixture of different people, were at length confounded; and the chain of ideas being lost, theology, plunged in a chaos, became a mere logogryph of old traditions no longer understood. Religion, losing its object, was now nothing more than a political expedient by which to rule the credulous vulgar; and was embraced either by men credulous themselves and the dupes of their own visions, or by bold and energetic spirits, who formed vast projects of ambition.”
Religion of Moses, or worship of the soul of the world (You-piter).
“Of this latter description was the Hebrew legislator, who, desirous of separating his nation from every other, and of forming a distinct and exclusive empire, conceived the design of taking for its basis religious prejudices, and of erecting round it a sacred rampart of rites and opinions. But in vain did he proscribe the worship of symbols, the reigning religion, at that time, in Lower Egypt and Phenicia(83) : his God was not on that account the less an Egyptian God, of the invention of those priests whose disciple Moses had been; and Yahouh(84) , detected by his very name, which means essence of beings, and by his symbol, the fiery bush, is nothing more than the soul of the world, the principle of motion, which Greece shortly after adopted under the same denomination in her You-piter, generative principle, and under that of Ei, existence(85) ; which the Thebans consecrated by the name of Kneph; which Sais worshipped under the emblem of Isis veiled, with this inscription, I am all that has been, all that is, and all that will be, and no mortal has drawn aside my veil; which Pythagoras honoured under the appellation of Vesta, and which the Stoic philosophy defined with precision, by calling it the principle of fire. In vain did Moses wish to blot from his religion whatever could bring to remembrance the worship of the stars; a multiplicity of traits in spite of his exertions still remained to point it out: the seven lamps of the great candlestick, the twelve stones or signs of the Urim of the high-priest, the feast of the two equinoxes, each of which at that epocha formed a year, the ceremony of the lamb or celestial ram, then at its fifteenth degree; lastly, the name of Osiris even preserved in his song(86) , and the ark or coffer, an imitation of the tomb in which that God was inclosed; all these remain to bear record to the genealogy of his ideas, and their derivation from the common source.”
Religion of Zoroaster.
“Zoroaster was also a man of the same bold and energetic stamp, who, five centuries after Moses, and in the time of David, revived and moralized among the Medes and Bactrians the whole Egyptian system of Osiris, under the names of Ormuzd and Ahrimanes. He called the reign of summer, virtue and good; the reign of winter, sin and evil; the renovation of nature in spring, creation; the revival of the spheres in the secular periods of the conjunction, resurrection; and his future life, hell, paradise, were the Tartarus and Elysium of the ancient astrologers and geographers; in a word, he only consecrated the already existing reveries of the mystic system.”
Budoism, or religion of the Samaneans.
In the same rank must be included the promulgators of the sepulchral doctrine of the Samaneans, who, on the basis of the metempsychosis, raised the misanthropic system of self-renunciation and denial, who, laying it down as a principle, that the body is only a prison where the soul lives in impure confinement; that life is but a dream, an illusion, and the world a place of passage to another country, to a life without end; placed virtue and perfection in absolute insensibility, in the abnegation of physical organs, in the annihilation of all being: whence resulted the fasts, penances, macerations, solitude, contemplations, and all the deplorable practices of the mad-headed Anchorets.”
Braminism, or the Indian system.
“Finally, of the same cast were the founders of the Indian system, who, resining after Zoroaster upon the two principles of creation and destruction, introduced an intermediate one, that of conservation, and upon their trinity in unity, of Brama, Chiven, and Bichenou, accumulated a multitude of traditional allegories, and the alembicated subtleties of their metaphysics.”
“These are the materials which, scattered through Asia, there existed for many ages, when, by a fortuitous course of events and circumstances, new combinations of them were introduced on the banks of the Euphrates, and on the shores of the Mediterranean.”
Christianity, or the allegorical worship of the Sun, under the cabalistical names ofChris-enorChrist,and Yês-usorJesus.
“In constituting a separate people, Moses had vainly imagined that he should guard them from the influence of every foreign idea: but an invincible inclination, founded on affinity of origin, continually called back the Hebrews to the worship of the neighbouring nations; and the relations of commerce that necessarily subsisted between them, tended every day to strengthen the propensity. While the Mosaic institution maintained its ground, the coercion of government and the laws, was a considerable obstacle to the inlet of innovations; yet even then the principal places were full of idols, and God the sun had his chariot and horses painted in the palaces of kings, and in the very temple of Yahouh: but when the conquests of the kings of Nineveh and Babylon had dissolved the bands of public power, the people left to themselves, and solicited by their conquerors, no longer kept a restraint on their inclinations, and profane opinions were openly professed in Judea. At first the Assyrian colonies, placed in the situation of the old tribes, filled the kingdom of Samaria with the dogmas of the Magi, which soon penetrated into Judea. Afterwards Jerusalem having been subjugated, the Egyptians, Syrians and Arabs, entering this open country, introduced their tenets, and the religion of Moses thus underwent a second alteration. In like manner the priests and great men, removing to Babylon, and educated in the science of the Chaldeans, imbibed, during a residence of seventy years, every principle of their theology, and from that moment the dogmas of the evil Genius (Satan), of the archangel Michael(87) , of the Ancient of Days (Ormuzd), of the rebellious angels, the celestial combats, the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection, dogmas unknown to Moses, or rejected by him, since he observes a perfect silence respecting them, became naturalized among the Jews.
“On their return to their country, the emigrants brought back with them these ideas; and at first the innovations occasioned disputes between their partisans, the Pharisees, and the adherents to the ancient national worship, the Sadducees: but the former, seconded by the inclination of the people, and the habits they had already contracted, and supported by the authority of the Persians, their deliverers, finally gained the ascendancy, and the theology of Zoroaster was consecrated by the children of Moses(88) .
“A fortuitous analogy between two leading ideas, proved particularly favourable to this coalition, and formed the basis of a last system, not less surprising in its fortune than in the causes of its formation.
“From the time that the Assyrians had destroyed the kingdom of Samaria, some sagacious spirits foresaw, announced, and predicted the same fate to Jerusalem: and all their predictions were stamped by this particularity, that they always concluded with prayers for a happy re-establishment and regeneration, which were in like manner spoken of in the way of prophesies. The enthusiasm of the Hierophants had figured a royal deliverer, who was to re-establish the nation in its ancient glory: the Hebrews were again to become a powerful and conquering people, and Jerusalem the capital of an empire that was to extend over the whole world.
“Events having realized the first part of those predictions, the ruin of Jerusalem, the people clung to the second with a firmness of belief proportioned to their misfortunes; and the afflicted Jews waited with the impatience of want and of desire for that victorious king and deliverer that was to come, in order to save the nation of Moses, and restore the throne of David.
“The sacred and mythological traditions of precedent times had spread over all Asia a tenet perfectly analogous. A great mediator, a final judge, a future saviour, was spoken of, who, as king, God, and victorious legislator, was to restore the golden age upon earth(89) , to deliver the world from evil, and regain for mankind the reign of good, the kingdom of peace and happiness. These ideas and expressions were in every mouth, and they consoled the people under that deplorable state of real suffering into which they had been plunged by successive conquests and conquerors, and the barbarous despotism of their governments. This resemblance between the oracles of different nations and the predictions of the prophets, excited the attention of the Jews; and the prophets had doubtless been careful to infuse into their pictures, the spirit and style of the sacred books employed in the Pagan mysteries. The arrival of a great ambassador, of a final saviour, was therefore the general expectation in Judea, when at length a singular circumstance was made to determine the precise period of his coming.
“It was recorded in the sacred books of the Persians and the Chaldeans, that the world, composed of a total revolution of twelve thousand periods, was divided into two partial revolutions, of which one, the age and reign of good, was to terminate at the expiration of six thousand, and the other, the age and reign of evil, at the expiration of another six thousand.
“Their first authors had meant by these recitals, the annual revolution of the great celestial orb (a revolution composed of twelve months or signs each divided into a thousand parts), and the two systematic periods of winter and summer, each consisting equally of six thousand. But these equivocal expressions having been erroneously explained, and having received an absolute and moral, instead of their astrological and physical sense, the result was, that the annual was taken for a secular world, the thousand periods for a thousand years; and judging, from the appearance of things, that the present was the age of misfortune, they inferred that it would terminate at the expiration of the six thousand pretended years(90) .
“Now, according to the Jewish computation, six thousand years had already nearly elapsed since the supposed creation of the world(91) . This coincidence produced considerable fermentation in the minds of the people. Nothing was thought of but the approaching termination. The Hierophants were interrogated, and their sacred books examined. The great Mediator and final Judge was expected, and his advent desired, that an end may be put to so many calamities. This was so much the subject of conversation, that some one was said to have seen him, and a rumour of this kind was all that was wanting to establish a general certainty. The popular report became a demonstrated fact; the imaginary being was realized; and all the circumstances of mythological tradition being in some manner connected with this phantom, the result was an authentic and regular history, which from henceforth it was blasphemy to doubt.
“In this mythological history the following traditions were recorded: “That, in the beginning, a man and a woman had, by their fall, brought sin and evil into the world.” (Examine plate II.)
“By this was denoted the astronomical fact of the celestial Virgin, and the herdsman (Bootes) who, setting heliacally at the autumnal equinox, resigned the heavens to the wintry constellations, and seemed, in sinking below the horizon, to introduce into the world the genius of evil, Ahrimanes, represented by the constellation of the Serpent(92.)
“That the woman had decoyed and seduced the man(93) .”
“And in reality, the Virgin setting first, appears to draw the Herdsman (Bootes) after her.
“That the woman had tempted him, by offering him fruit pleasant to the sight and good for food, which gave the knowledge of good and evil.”
“Manifestly alluding to the Virgin, who is depicted holding a bunch of fruit in her hand, which she appears to extend towards the Herdsman: in like manner the branch, emblem of autumn, placed in the picture of Mithra(94) on the front of winter and summer, seems to open the door, and to give the knowledge, the key, of good and evil.
“That this couple had been driven from the celestial garden, and that a cherub with aflaming sword had been placed at the door to guard it.”
“And when the Virgin and the Herdsman sink below the Western horizon, Perseus rises on the opposite side(95) , and sword in hand, this Genius may be said to drive them from the summer heaven, the garden and reign of fruits and flowers.
“That from this virgin would be born, would spring up a shoot, a child, that should crush the serpent’s head, and deliver the world from sin.”
“By this was denoted the Sun, which, at the period of the summer solstice, at the precise moment that the Persian Magi drew the horoscope of the new year, found itself in the bosom of the Virgin, and which, on this account, was represented in their astrological pictures in the form of an infant suckled by a chaste virgin(96) , and afterwards became, at the vernal equinox the Ram or Lamb, conqueror of the constellation of the Serpent, which disappeared from the heavens.
“That in his infancy, this restorer of thedivine or celestial nature, would lead a mean, humble, obscure and indigent life.”
“By which was meant, that the winter sun was humbled, depressed below the horizon, and that this first period of his four ages, or the seasons, was a period of obscurity and indigence, of fasting and privation.
“That being put to death by the wicked, he would gloriously rise again, ascend from hell into heaven, where he would reign for ever.”
“By these expressions was described the life of the same Sun, who, terminating his career at the winter solstice, when Typhon and the rebellious angels exercised their sway, seemed to be put to death by them; but shortly after revived and rose again(97) in the firmament, where he still remains.
“These traditions went still farther, specifying his astrological and mysterious names, maintaining that he was called sometimes Chris or Conservator(98) ; and hence the Hindoo God, Chris-en, or Christna; and the Christian Chris-tos, the son of Mary. That at other times he was called Yês, by the union of three letters, which, according to their numerical value, form the number 608, one of the solar periods(99) . And behold, O Europeans, the name which, with a Latin termination has become your Yês-us or Jesus; the ancient and cabalistical name given to young Bacchus, the clandestine son of the virgin Minerva, who in the whole history of his life, and even in his death, calls to mind the history of the God of the Christians; that is, the star of day, of which they are both of them emblems.”
At these words a violent murmur arose on the part of the Christian groupes; but the Mahometans, the Lamas and the Hindoos having called them to order, the orator thus concluded his discourse.
“You are not to be told,” said he, “in what manner the rest of this system was formed in the chaos and anarchy of the three first centuries; how a multiplicity of opinions divided the people, all of which were embraced with equal zeal and retained with equal obstinacy, because alike founded on ancient tradition, they were alike sacred. You know how, at the end of three centuries, government having espoused one of these sects, made it the orthodox religion; that is to say, the predominant religion, to the exclusion of the rest, which, on account of their inferiority, were denominated heresies; how, and by what means of violence and seduction this religion was propagated and gained strength, and afterwards became divided and weakened; how, six centuries after the innovation of Christianity, another system was formed out of its materials and those of the Jews, and a political and theological empire was created by Mahomet at the expence of that of Moses and the vicars of Jesus.
“Now, if you take a retrospect of the whole history of the spirit of religion, you will find, that in its origin it had no other author than the sensations and wants of man: that the idea of God had no other type, no other model, than that of physical powers, material existences, operating good or evil, by impressions of pleasure or pain on sensible beings. You will find that in the formation of every system, this spirit of religion pursued the same track, and was uniform in its proceedings; that in all, the dogma never failed to represent, under the name God, the operations of nature, and the passions and prejudices of men; that in all, morality had for its sole end, desire of happiness and aversion to pain; but that the people and the majority of legislators, ignorant of the true road that led thereto, invented false, and therefore contrary ideas of virtue and vice, of good and evil; that is, of what renders man happy or miserable. You will find, that in all, the means and causes of propagation and establishment exhibited the same scenes, the same passions, and the same events, continual disputes about words, false pretexts for inordinate zeal, for revolutions, for wars, lighted up by the ambition of chiefs, by the chicanery of promulgators, by the credulity of proselytes, by the ignorance of the vulgar, and by the grasping cupidity and the intolerant pride of all. In short, you will find that the whole history of the spirit of religion, is merely that of the fallibility and uncertainty of the human mind, which, placed in a world that it does not comprehend, is yet desirous of solving the enigma; and which, the astonished spectator of this mysterious and visible prodigy, invents causes, supposes ends, builds systems; then, finding one defective, abandons it for another not less vicious; hates the error that it has renounced, is ignorant of the new one that it adopts; rejects the truth of which it is in pursuit, invents chimeras of heterogeneous and contradictory beings, and, ever dreaming of wisdom and happiness, loses itself in a labyrinth of torments and illusions.”
[* ]This must have been June. See Note (46).
[* ]The Zodiac.
[* ]See the examples cited in note (45).
[* ]Nights of six months duration.
[* ]Vide Œdip. Ægypt. tom. II. p. 205.
[Page 224. (41).]The original barbarous state of mankind. It is the unanimous testimony of history, and even of legends, that the first human beings were every where savages, and that it was to civilize them, and teach them to make bread, that the Gods manifested themselves.
[Page id. (42).]Man receives no ideas but through the medium of his senses. The rock on which all the ancients have split, and which has occasioned all their errors, has been their supposing the idea of God to be innate and coeternal with the soul; and hence all the reveries developed in Plato and Jamblicus. See the Timæus, the Phedon, and De Myst. Ægyptiorum, sect. 1. c. 3.
[Page 231. (43).]Record of all the monuments of antiquity. It clearly results, says Plutarch, from the verses of Orpheus and the sacred books of the Egyptians and Phrygians, that the ancient theology, not only of the Greeks, but of all nations, was nothing more than a system of physics, a picture of the operations of nature, wrapped up in mysterious allegories and enigmatical symbols, in a manner that the ignorant multitude attended rather to their apparent than to their hidden meaning, and even in what they understood of the latter, supposed there to be something more deep than what they perceived. Fragment of a work of Plutarch now lost, quoted by Eusebius, Præpar. Evang. lib. 3. ch. 1. p. 83.
[Page 232. (44).]The practice of agriculture required the observation and knowledge of the heavens. It continues to be repeated every day, on the indirect authority of the book of Genesis that astronomy was the invention of the children of Noah. It has been gravely said, that, while wandering shepherds in the plains of Shinar, they employed their leisure in composing a planetary system: as if shepherds had occasion to know more than the Polar star, and if necessity was not the sole motive of every invention! If the ancient shepherds were so studious and sagacious, how does it happen that the modern ones are so stupid, ignorant, and inattentive? And it is a fact, that the Arabs of the desert know not so many as six constellations, and understand not a word of astronomy.
[Page 233. (45).]Genii, Gods, authors of good and evil. It appears that by the words genius, the ancients denoted a quality, a generative power; for the following words, which are all of one family, convey this meaning: generary, genos, genesis, genus, gens.
[Page 234. (46).]And even a sex derived from the gender of its appellation. According as the gender of the object was in the language of the nation masculine or feminine, the Divinity who bore its name was male or female. Thus the Cappadocians called the moon God, and the sun Goddess; a circumstance which gives to the same beings a perpetual variety in ancient mythology.
[Page 235. (47).]Morality was a judicious practice of all that is conducive to the preservation of existence. We may add, says Plutarch, that these Egyptian priests always regarded the preservation of health as a point of first importance, and as indispensably necessary to the practice of piety and the service of the Gods. See his account of Isis and Osiris, towards the end.
[Page id. (48).]That its principles (those of astronomy), can be traced back to a period of 17,000 years. The historical orator follows here the opinion of Mr. Dupuis, who, in his learned memoir concerning the origin of the constellations, has assigned many plausible reasons to prove that Libra was formerly the sign of the vernal, and Aries of the nocturnal equinox; that is, that since the origin of the actual astronomical system, the procession of the equinoxes has carried forward by seven signs the primitive order of the Zodiac. Now estimating the procession at about seventy years and a half to a degree, that is 2,115 years to each sign; and observing that Aries was in its fifteenth degree, 1,447 years before Christ, it follows, that the first degree of Libra could not have coincided with the vernal equinox more lately than 15,194 years before Christ, to which if you add 1790 years since Christ, it appears that 16,984 have elapsed since the origin of the Zodiac. The vernal equinox coincided with the first degree of Aries 2,524 years before Christ, and with the first degree of Tarras 4,619 years before Christ. Now it is to be observed, that the worship of the Bull is the principal article in the theological creed of the Egyptians, Persians, Japanese, &c.; from whence it clearly follows, that some general revolution took place among those nations at that time. The chronology of five or six thousand years in Genesis is little agreeable to this hypothesis; but as the book of Genesis cannot claim to be considered as a history farther back than Abraham, we are at liberty to make what arrangements we please in the eternity that preceded.
[Page id. (49).]When reason finds there a zone of heaven equally free from the rains of the equator and the fogs of the North. Mr. Bailli, in placing the first astronomers at Selingenskoy, near the lake Baikal, paid no attention to this twofold circumstance: it equally argues against their being placed at Axoum on account of the rains, and the Zimb fly of which Mr. Bruce speaks.
[Page 238. (50).]Men gave to the stars, &c. “The ancients,” says Maimonides, “directing all their attention to agriculture, gave names to the stars derived from their occupation during the year.” More Neb. pars 3.
[Page 240. (51).]They call by the name of serpents the figured traces of the orbits. The ancients had verbs from the substantives crab, goat, tortoise, as the French have at present the verbs serpenter, coquetier. The history of all languages is nearly the same.
[Page 243. (52).]If they had not seen in them talismans partaking of the nature of the stars. The ancient astrologers, says the most learned of the Jews (Maimonides), having sacredly assigned to each planet a colour, an animal, a tree, a metal, a fruit, a plant, formed from them all a figure or representation of the star, taking care to select for the purpose a proper moment, a fortunate day, such as the conjunction of the star, or some other favourable aspect, They conceived, that by their magic ceremonies they could introduce into those figures or idols the influences of the superior beings after which they were modelied. These were the idols that the Chaldean-Sabeans adored; and in the performance of their worship they were obliged to be dressed in the proper colour. . . . The astrologers, by their practices, thus introduced idolatry, desirous of being regarded as the dispensers of the favours of heaven; and as agriculture was the sole employment of the ancients, they succeeded in persuading them, that the rain and other blessings of the seasons were at their disposal. Thus the whole art of agriculture was exercised by rules of astrology, and the priests made talismans or charms which were to drive away locusts, flies, &c. See Maimonides, More, Nebuchim, pars 3. c. 29.
[Page id. (53).]The sun was supposed to assume their forms (the forms of the twelve animals). These are the very words of Iamblicus de Symbolis Ægyptiorum, c. 2. sect. 7. The sun was the grand Proteus, the universal metamorphist.
[Page 245. (54).]Your tonsure is the disk of the sun. The Arabs, says Herodotus, shave their heads in a circle and about the temples, in imitation of Bacchus (that is the sun,) who shaves himself, they say, in this manner. Jeremiah speaks also of this custom. The tuft of hair which the Mahometans preserve, is taken also from the sun, who was painted by the Egyptians at the winter solstice, as having but a single hair on his head. . . . Your stole its Zodiac. The robes of the goddess of Syria and of Diana of Ephesus, from whence are borrowed the dress of priests, have the twelve animals of the Zodiac painted on them. . . . . Rosaries are found upon all the Indian idols, constructed more than four thousand years ago; and their use in the East has been universal for time immemorial. . . . . The crosier is precisely the staff of Bootes or Osiris (See Plate II.) All the Lamas wear the mitre or cap in the shape of a cone, which was an emblem of the sun.
[Page 247. (55.)]Having said that a planet entered into a sign, their conjunction was denominated a marriage, &c. These are the very words of Plutarch in his account of Isis and Osiris. The Hebrews say, in speaking of the generations of the Patriarchs, et ingressus est in cam. From this continual equivoque of ancient language, proceeds every mistake.
[Page 248. (56).]The combination of these figures had also a meaning. The reader will doubtless see, with pleasure, some examples of ancient hieroglyphics.
[Page 252. (57).]The senseless cause of superstition. These are properly the words of Plutarch, who relates, that those various worships were given by a king of Egypt to the different towns to disunite and enslave them (and these kings had been taken from the cast of priests). See Isis & Osiris.
[Page 255. (58).]In the projection of the celestial sphere. The ancient priests had three kind of spheres, which it may be useful to make known to the reader.
[Page id. (59.)]The adverse Genii. It was for this reason the Persians always wrote the name of Ahrimanes inverted thus: Ahrimanes.
[Page 256. (60).]Typhon, that is to say deluge. Typhon, pronounced Touphon by the Greeks, is precisely the touphan of the Arabs, which signifies deluge; and these deluges in mythology are nothing more than winter and the rains, or the overflowing of the Nile; as their pretended fires which are to destroy the world, are simply the summer season. And it is for this reason that Aristotle (De Meteor. lib. I. c. xiv.), says, that the winter of the great cyclic year is a deluge; and its summer a conflagration. “The Egyptians, says Porphyry, “employ every year a talisman in remembrance of the world: at the summer solstice they mark their houses, flocks and trees with red, supposing that on that day the whole world had been set on fire. It was also at the same period that they celebrated the pyrric or fire dance.” (And this illustrates the origin of purifications by fire and by water: for having denominated the tropic of Cancer the gate of heaven, and of genial heat or celestial fire, and that of Capricorn the gate of deluge or of water, it was imagined that the spirits or souls who passed through these gates in their way to and from heaven, were roasted or bathed: hence the baptism of Mithra, und the passage through flames, observed throughout the East long before Moses).
[Page id. (61).]In Persia in a subsequent period. That is, when the ram became the equinoxial sign, or rather when the alteration of the skies shewed that it was no longer the Bull. See Note 48.
[Page 257. (62).]Whence are derived all religious acts of a gay nature. All the ancient festivals respecting the return and exaltation of the sun were of this description: hence the hilaria of the Roman calendar at the period of the passage (Pascha) of the vernal equinox. The dances were imitations of the march of the planets. Those of the Dervises still represent it to this day.
[Page 258. (63).]All religious acts of the sombre kind. “Sacrifices of blood,” says Porphyry, “were only offered to Demons and evil Genii to avert their wrath. . . Demons are fond of blood, humidity, stench.” Apud. Euseb. Præp. Ev. p. 173.
[Page 260. (64).]Elysian-fields. Aliz, in the Phenician or Hebrew language signifies dancing and joyous.
[Page 262. (65).]The Milky way. See Macrob. Som. Scip. c. 12; and Note (78).
[Page 265. (66).]The bodies of its inhabitants cast no shade. There is on this subject a passage in Plutarch, so interesting and explanatory of the whole of this system, that we shall cite it entire. Having observed that the theory of good and evil had at all times occupied the attention of philosophers and theologians, he adds: “Many suppose there to be two Gods of opposite inclinations, one delighting in good the other in evil; the first of these is called particularly by the name of God, the second by that of Genius or Demon. Zoroaster has denominated them Oromaze and Ahrimanes, and has said that, of whatever falls under the cognizance of our senses, light is the best representation of the one, and darkness and ignorance of the other. He adds, that Mithra is an intermediate being, and it is for this reason the Persians call Mithra the mediator or intermediator. Each of these Gods has distinct plants and animals consecrated to him; for example, dogs, birds and hedge-hogs belong to the good Genius, and all aquatic animals to the evil one.
[Page 265. (67).]The cave of Mithra. See Note (58). In the caves which priests every where constructed, they celebrated mysteries which consisted (says Origen against Celsus) in imitating the motion of the stars, the planets, and the heavens. The initiated took the name of constellations and assumed the figures of animals. One was a lion, another a raven, and a third a ram. Hence the use of masks in the first representation of the drama. See Ant. Devoilé, vol. ii. p. 244. “In the mysteries of Ceres the chief in the procession called himself the creator; the bearer of the torch was denominated the sun: the person nearest to the altar, the moon; the herald or deacon, Mercury. In Egypt there was a festival in which the men and women represented the year, the age, the seasons, the different parts of the day, and they walked in procession after Bacchus. Athen. lib. v. c. 7. In the cave of Mithra was a ladder with seven steps, representing the seven spheres of the planets, by means of which souls ascended and descended. This is precisely the ladder in Jacob’s vision, which shows that at that epocha the whole system was formed. There is in the French king’s library a superb volume of pictures of the Indian Gods, in which the ladder is represented with the souls of men mounting it.”
[Page 267. (68).]Exact calculation. Consult the ancient astronomy of M. Bailly, and you will find our assertions respecting the knowledge of the priests amply proved.
[Page 269. (69).]A reciprocal connection. These are the very words of Jamblicus. De Myst. Ægypt.
[Page id. (70.)]Or rather electrical fluid. The more I consider what the ancients understood by ether, and spirit, and what the Indians call akache, the stronger do I find the analogy between it and electrical fluid. A luminous fluid, principle of warmth and motion, pervading the universe, forming the matter of the stars, having small round particles, which insinuate themselves into bodies, and fill them by dilating itself, be their extent what it will, what can more strongly resemble electricity?
[Page id. (71.)]Was supposed to have the sun for its heart. Natural philosophers, says Macrobius, call the sun the heart of the world. Som. Scip. c. 20. The Egyptians, says Plutarch, call the East the face, the North the right-side, and the South the left-side of the world, because there the heart is placed. They continually compare the universe to a man; and hence the celebrated microcosm of the Alchymists. We observe by the by, that the Alchymists, Cabalists, Free masons, Magnetifers, Martinists, and every other such sort of visionaries, are but the mistaken disciples of this ancient school: we say mistaken, because, in spite of their pretensions, the thread of the occult science is broken.
[Page id. (72).]That the world was eternal. See the Pythagorean Ocellus Lucanus.
[Page 270. (73).]The Orphic egg. This comparison of the sun with the yolk of an egg refers, 1. To its round and yellow figure; 2. To its central situation; 3. To the germ or principle of life contained in the yolk. May not the oval form of the egg allude to the elipsis of the orbs? I am inclined to this opinion. The word Orphic offers a farther observation. Macrobius says (Som. Scip. c. 14. and c. 20), that the sun is the brain of the universe, and that it is from analogy that the skull of a human being is round, like the planet, the seat of intelligence. Now the word Orph (with ain) signifies in Hebrew the brain and its seat (cervix): Orpheus, then, is the same as Bedou, or Baits; and the Bonzes are those very Orphics which Plutarch represents as quacks, who ate no meat, vended talismans, and little stones, and deceived individuals, and even governments themselves. See a learned Memoir of Freret sur les Orphiques, Acad. des Inscrip. vol. 23. in 4to.
[Page id. (74).]Wearing on his head a sphere of gold. See Porphyry in Eusellius, Præp. Evang. lib. 3. p. 115.
[Page 271. (75).]Alluding to the wind. The Northern or Elesian wind, which commences regularly at the solstice, with the inundation.
[Page 272. (76).]You-piter. This is the true pronunciation of the Jupiter of the Latins. . . . Existence itself. This is the signification of the word You. See Note (84).
[Page 273. (77).]Producing the great egg. See Note (35).
[Page id. (78).]The immortality of the soul, which at first was eternity. In the system of the first spiritualists, the soul was not created with, or at the same time as the body, in order to be inserted in it: its existence was supposed to be anterior and from all eternity. Such, in a few words, is the doctrine of Macrobius on this head. Som. Scip. passim.
[Page 275. (79).]The world is a machine; it has therefore an artificer. All the arguments of the spiritualists are founded on this. See Macrobius, at the end of the second book, and Plato, with the comments of Marcilius Ficinus.
[Page 276. (80).]The demi-ourgos, the logos, and the spirit. These are the real types of the Christian Trinity. See Note (99).
[Page 277. (81).]Its very names. In our last analysis we found all the names of the Deity to be derived from some material object in which it was supposed to reside. We have given a considerable number of instances; let us add one more relative to our word God. This is known to be the Deus of the Latins, and the Theos of the Greeks. Now by the confession of Plato (in Cratylo), of Macrobius (Saturn, lib. 1. c. 24), and of Plutarch (Isis & Osiris), its root is thein, which signifies to wander, like planeïn, that is to say, it is synonimous with planets; because, all our authors, both the ancient Greeks and barbarians particularly worshipped the planets. I know that such enquiries into etymologies have been much decried: but if, as is the case, words are the representative signs of ideas, the genealogy of the one becomes that of the other, and a good etymological dictionary would be the most perfect history of the human understanding. It would only be necessary in this enquiry to observe certain precautions, which have hitherto been neglected, and particularly to make an exact comparison of the value of the letters of the different alphabets. But, to continue our subject, we shall add, that in the Phenician language, the word thah (with ain) signifies also to wander, and appears to be the derivation of theïn. If we suppose Deus to be derived from the Greek Zeus, a proper name of You-piter, having zaw I live, for its root, its sense will be precisely that of you, and will mean soul of the world, igneous principle. See Note (84). Div-us, which only signifies Genius, God of the second order, appears to me to come from the oriental word div substituted for dib, wolf and chacal, one of the emblems of the sun. At Thebes, says Macrobius, the sun was painted under the form of a wolf or chacal, for there are no wolves in Egypt. The reason of this emblem, doubtless, is that the chacal, like the cock, announces by its cries the sun’s rising; and this reason is confirmed by the analogy of the words lykos, wolf, and lyké, light of the morning, whence comes lux.
[Page 278. (82).]The progress of science and discovery. One of the proofs that all these systems were invented in Egypt, is, that this is the only country where we see a complete body of doctrine formed from the remotest antiquity.
[Page 279. (83).]The reigning religion in Lower Egypt. “At a certain period,” says Plutarch (de Iside) “all the Egyptians have their animal Gods painted. The Thebans are the only people who do not employ painters, because they worship a God whose form comes not under the senses, and cannot be represented. And this is the God whom Moses, educated at Heliopolis, adopted; but the idea was not of his invention.
[Page 280. (84).]And Yahouh. Such is the true pronunciation of the Jehovah of the moderns, who violate in this respect every rule of criticism; since it is evident that the ancients, particularly the Eastern Syrians and Phenicians, were acquainted neither with the Jé nor the V, which are of Tartar origin. The subsisting usage of the Arabs, which we have re-established here, is confirmed by Diodorus, who calls the God of Moses Iaw, (lib. 1.), and Iaw and Iahouh are manifestly the same word: the identity continues in that of Iou-piter; but in order to render it more complete, we shall demonstrate the signification to be the same.
[Page 280. (85).]Ei, existence. This was the monosyllable written on the gate of the temple of Delphos. Plutarch has made it the subject of a dissertation.
[Page 281. (86).]The name of Osiris preserved in his song. These are the literal expressions of the book of Deuteronomy, ch. 32. “The works of Tsour are perfect.” Now Tsour has been translated by the word creator; its proper signification is to give forms, and this is one of the definitions of Osiris in Plutarch.
[Page 284. (87).]Of the Archangel Michael. “The names of the angels and of the months, such as Gabriel, Michael, Yar, Nisan, &c. came from Babylon with the Jews;” says expressly the Talmud of Jerusalem. See Beausob. Hist. du Manich. Vol. II. p. 624, where he proves that the saints of the Almanac are an imitation of the 365 angels of the Persians; and Jamblicus in his Egyptian Mysteries, sect. 2. c. 3. speaks of angels, archangels, seraphim, &c. like a true Christian.
[Page 285. (88).]Theology of Zoroaster. “The whole philosophy of the gymnosophists,” says Diogenes Laertius on the authority of an ancient writer, “is derived from that of the Magi, and many assert that of the Jews to have the same origin.” Lib. 1. c. 9. Magasthenes, an historian of repute in the days of Seleucus Nicanor, and who wrote particularly upon India, speaking of the philosopy of the ancients respecting natural things, puts the Brachmans and the Jews precisely on the same footing.
[Page 287. (89).]To restore the golden age upon earth. This is the reason of the application of the many Pagan oracles to Jesus, and particularly the fourth eclogue of Virgil, and the Sybilline verses so celebrated among the ancients.
[Page 288. (90).]At the expiration of the six thousand pretended years. We have already seen, note 29, this tradition current among the Tuscans; it was disseminated through most nations, and shows us what we ought to think of all the pretended creations and terminations of the world, which are merely the beginnings and endings of astronomical periods invented by astrologers. That of the year or solar revolution, being the most simple and perceptible, served as a model to the rest, and its comparison gave rise to the most whimsical ideas. Of this description is the idea of the four ages of the world among the Indians. Originally these four ages were merely the four seasons; and as each season was under the supposed influence of a planet, it bore the name of the metal appropriated to that planet: thus spring was the age of the sun, or of gold; summer the age of the moon, or of silver; autumn the age of Venus, or of brass; and winter the age of Mars, or of iron. Afterwards when astronomers invented the great year of 25 and 36 thousand common years, which had for its object the bringing back all the stars to one point of departure and a general conjunction, the ambiguity of the terms introduced a similar ambiguity of ideas; and the myriads of celestial signs and periods of duration which were thus measured, were easily converted into so many revolutions of the sun. Thus the different periods of creation which have been so great a source of difficulty and misapprehension to curious enquirers, were in reality nothing more than hypothetical calculations of astronomical periods. In the same manner the creation of the world has been attributed to different seasons of the year, just as these different seasons have served for the fictitious period of these conjunctions; and of consequence has been adopted by different nations for the commencement of an ordinary year. Among the Egyptians this period fell upon the summer solstice, which was the commencement of their year; and the departure of the spheres, according to their conjectures, fell, in like manner, upon the period when the sun enters Cancer. Among the Persians the year commenced at first in the spring, or when the sun enters Aries; and from thence the first Christians were led to suppose that God created the world in the spring: this opinion is also favoured by the book of Genesis; and it is farther remarkable, that the world is not there said to be created by the God of Moses (Yahouh), but by the Elohim or gods in the plural, that is, by the angels or genii, for so the word constantly means in the Hebrew books. If we farther observe that the root of the word Elohim signifies strong or powerful, and that the Egyptians called their decans strong and powerful leaders, attributing to them the creation of the world, we shall presently perceive that the book of Genesis affirms neither more nor less than that the world was created by the decans, by those very genii whom, according to Sanchoniathon, Mercury excited against Saturn, and who were called Elohim. It may be farther asked, why the plural substantive Elohim is made to agree with the singular verb bara (the Elohim creates). The reason is, that after the Babylonish captivity the unity of the Supreme Being was the prevailing opinion of the Jews; it was therefore thought proper to introduce a pious solecism in language, which it is evident had no existence before Moses: thus in the names of the children of Jacob many of them are compounded of a plural verb, to which Elohim is the nominative case understood, as Raouben (Reuben), they have looked upon me, and Samaonni (Simeon), they have granted me my prayer, to wit, the Elohim. The reason of this etymology is to be found in the religious creeds of the wives of Jacob, whose gods were the taraphim of Laban, that is, the angels of the Persians, and the Egyptian decans.
[Page id. (91).]Six thousand years had already nearly elapsed since the supposed creation of the world. According to the computation of the Seventy, the period elapsed consisted of about 5,600 years, and this computation was principally followed. It is well known how much, in the first ages of the church, this opinion of the end of the world agitated the minds of men. In the sequel, the general councils, encouraged by finding that the general conflagration did not come, pronounced the expectation that prevailed heretical, and its believers were called Millenarians; a circumstance curious enough, since it is evident from the history of the Gospels that Jesus Christ was a Millenarian, and of consequence a heretic.
[Page 290. (92).]Constellation of the serpent. “The Persians,” says Chardin, “call the constellation of the serpent Ophiucus, serpent of Eve: and this serpent Ophiucus or Ophioneus plays a similar part in the theology of the Phenicians,” for Pherecydes, their disciple, and the master of Pythagoras, said “that Ophioneus serpentinus had been chief of the rebels against Jupiter.” See Mars. Ficin. Apol. Socrat. p. m. 797. col. 2. I shall add that æphah (with aïn) signifies in Hebrew serpent.
[Page id. (93).]Seduced the man. In a physical sense to seduce, seducere, means only to attract, to draw after us.
[Page id. (94).]Picture of Mithra. See this picture in Hyde, page 111, edition of 1760.
[Page 291. (95).]Perseus rises on the opposite side. Rather the head of Medusa; that head of a woman once so beautiful, which Perseus cut off, and which he holds in his hand, is only that of the virgin, whose head sinks below the horizon at the very moment that Perseus rises; and the serpents which surround it are Ophiucus and the Polar Dragon, who then occupy the zenith. This shews us in what manner the ancients composed all their figures and fables. They took such constellations as they found at the same time on the circle of the horizon, and collecting the different parts, they formed groupes which served them as an almanac in hieroglyphic characters. Such is the secret of all their pictures, and the solution of all their mythological monsters. The Virgin is also Andromeda, delivered by Perseus from the whale that pursues her (pro-sequitur.)
[Page id. (96).]By a chaste virgin. Such was the picture of the Persian sphere, cited by Aben Ezra in the Cœlum Poeticum of Blaeu, p. 71. “The picture of the first decan of the Virgin,” says that writer, “represents a beautiful virgin with flowing hair, sitting in a chair, with two ears of corn in her hand, and suckling an infant, called Jesus by some nations, and Christ in Greek.”
[Page 292. (97).]Rose again in the firmament. Resurgere, to rise a second time, cannot signify to return to life, but in a metaphorical sense; but we see continually mistakes of this kind result from the ambiguous meaning of the words made use of in ancient tradition.
[Page id. (98).]Chris, or conservator. The Greeks used to express by X, or Spanish iota, the aspirated hâ of the Orientals, who said hâris. In Hebrew heres signifies the sun, but in Arabic the meaning of the radical word is, to guard, to preserve, and of hâris, guardian, preserver. It is the proper epithet of Vichenou, which demonstrates at once the identity of the Indian and Christian Trinities, and their common origin. It is manifestly but one system, which, divided into two branches, one extending to the east, and the other to the west, assumed two different forms: its principal trunk is the Pythagorean system of the soul of the world, or Iou-piter. The epithet piter, or father, having been applied to the demi-ourgos of Plato, gave rise to an ambiguity which caused an enquiry to be made respecting the son of this father. In the opinion of the philosophers the son was understanding, Nons and Logos, from which the Latins made their Verbum. And thus we clearly perceive the origin of the eternal father and of the Verbum his son, proceeding from him (Mens ex Deo nata, says Macrobius): the anima or spiritus mundi was the Holy Ghost; and it is for this reason that Manes, Basilides, Valentinius, and other pretended heretics of the first ages, who traced things to their source, said, that God the Father was the supreme inaccessible light (that of the heaven, the primum mobile, or the aplanes); the Son the secondary light resident in the sun, and the Holy Ghost the atmosphere of the earth (See Beausob. Vol. II. p. 586): hence, among the Syrians, the representation of the Holy Ghost by a dove, the bird of Venus Urania, that is, of the air. The Syrians (says Nigidius de Germanico) assert that a dove sat for a certain number of days on the egg of a fish, and that from this incubation Venus was born: Sextus Empiricus also observes (Inst. Pyrrh. lib. 3. c. 23.) that the Syrians abstain from eating doves; which intimates to us a period commencing in the sign Pisces, in the winter solstice. We may farther observe, that if Chris comes from Harisch by a chin, it will signify artificer, an epithet belonging to the sun. These variations, which must have embarrassed the ancients, prove it to be the real type of Jesus, as had been already remarked in the time of Tertullian. “Many,” says this writer, “suppose with greater probability that the sun is our God, and they refer us to the religion of the Persians.” Apologet. c. 16.
[Page 293. (99).]One of the solar periods. See a curious ode to the Sun, by Martianus Capella, translated by Gebelin.