Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. VI.: Sixth System: The animated world, or worship of the universe under different emblems. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Sect. VI.: Sixth System: The animated world, or worship of the universe under different emblems. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
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.”
[* ]Vide Œdip. Ægypt. tom. II. p. 205.
[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.