Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. II.: Second system: Worship of the Stars, or Sabeism. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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Sect. II.: Second system: Worship of the Stars, or Sabeism. - 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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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.
[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.