Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. V.: Mystical or moral worship, or the system of a future state. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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Sect. V.: Mystical or moral worship, or the system of a future state. - 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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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.”
[* ]Nights of six months duration.
[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.”