Constantin François de Chasseboeuf Volney
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER I. THE JOURNEY. *
CHAPTER VI. THE PRIMITIVE STATE OF MAN. *
CHAPTER XIII. WILL THE HUMAN RACE IMPROVE? *
CHAPTER XVI. A FREE AND LEGISLATIVE PEOPLE. *
CHAPTER XXI. PROBLEM OF RELIGIOUS CONTRADICTIONS. *
CHAPTER XXIII. ALL RELIGIONS HAVE THE SAME OBJECT. *
CHAPTER XXIV. SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM OF CONTRADICTIONS. *
THE RUINS OF EMPIRES.
* The dragon Bell.
At these words, revolving in my mind the vicissitudes which have transmitted the sceptre of the world to people so different in religion and manners from those in ancient Asia to the most recent of Europe, this name of a natal land revived in me the sentiment of my country; and turning my eyes towards France, I began to reflect on the situation in which I had left her.*
* In the year 1782, at the close of the American war.
I recalled her fields so richly cultivated, her roads so admirably constructed, her cities inhabited by a countless people, her fleets spread over every sea, her ports filled with the produce of both the Indies: and then comparing the activity of her commerce, the extent of her navigation, the magnificence of her buildings, the arts and industry of her inhabitants, with what Egypt and Syria had once possessed, I was gratified to find in modern Europe the departed splendor of Asia; but the charm of my reverie was soon dissolved by a last term of comparison. Reflecting that such had once been the activity of the places I was then contemplating, who knows, said I, but such may one day be the abandonment of our countries? Who knows if on the banks of the Seine, the Thames, the Zuyder-Zee, where now, in the tumult of so many enjoyments, the heart and the eye suffice not for the multitude of sensations,--who knows if some traveller, like myself, shall not one day sit on their silent ruins, and weep in solitude over the ashes of their inhabitants, and the memory of their former greatness.
At these words, my eyes filled with tears: and covering my head with the fold of my mantle, I sank into gloomy meditations on all human affairs. Ah! hapless man, said I in my grief, a blind fatality sports with thy destiny!* A fatal necessity rules with the hand of chance the lot of mortals! But no: it is the justice of heaven fulfilling its decrees!--a God of mystery exercising his incomprehensible judgments! Doubtless he has pronounced a secret anathema against this land: blasting with maledictions the present, for the sins of past generations. Oh! who shall dare to fathom the depths of the Omnipotent?
* Fatality is the universal and rooted prejudice of the East. "It was written," is there the answer to every thing. Hence result an unconcern and apathy, the most powerful impediments to instruction and civilization.
And sunk in profound melancholy, I remained motionless.
TO EQUAL LAW, WHICH JUDGES AND PROTECTS.
And having surrounded the pyramid and the altar with a vast amphitheatre, all the people took their seats to hear the publication of the law. And millions of men, raising at once their hands to heaven, took the solemn oath to live equal, free, and just; to respect their reciprocal properties and rights; to obey the law and its regularly chosen representatives.
A spectacle so impressive and sublime, so replete with generous emotions, moved me to tears; and addressing myself to the Genius, I exclaimed: Let me now live, for in future I have everything to hope.
But scarcely had the solemn voice of liberty and equality resounded through
the earth, when a movement of confusion, of astonishment, arose in different
nations. On the one hand, the people, warmed with desire, but wavering between
hope and fear, between the sentiment of right and the habit of obedience, began
to be in motion. The kings, on the other hand, suddenly awakened from the sleep
of indolence and despotism, were alarmed for the safety of their thrones; while,
on all sides, those clans of civil and religious tyrants, who deceive kings and
oppress the people, were seized with rage and consternation; and, concerting
their perfidious plans, they said: Woe to us, if this fatal cry of liberty comes
to the ears of the multitude! Woe to us, if this pernicious spirit of justice be
And, pointing to the floating banner, they continued:
Consider what a swarm of evils are included in these three words! If all men are equal, where is our exclusive right to honors and to power? If all men are to be free, what becomes of our slaves, our vassals, our property? If all are equal in the civil state, where is our prerogative of birth, of inheritance? and what becomes of nobility? If they are all equal in the sight of God, what need of mediators?--where is the priesthood? Let us hasten, then, to destroy a germ so prolific, and so contagious. We must employ all our cunning against this innovation. We must frighten the kings, that they may join us in the cause. We must divide the people by national jealousies, and occupy them with commotions, wars, and conquests. They must be alarmed at the power of this free nation. Let us form a league against the common enemy, demolish that sacrilegious standard, overturn that throne of rebellion, and stifle in its birth the flame of revolution.
And, indeed, the civil and religious tyrants of nations formed a general combination; and, multiplying their followers by force and seduction, they marched in hostile array against the free nation; and, surrounding the altar and the pyramid of natural law, they demanded with loud cries:
What is this new and heretical doctrine? what this impious altar, this sacrilegious worship? True believers and loyal subjects! can you suppose that truth has been first discovered to-day, and that hitherto you have been walking in error? that those men, more fortunate than you, have the sole privilege of wisdom? And you, rebel and misguided nation, perceive you not that your new leaders are misleading you? that they destroy the principles of your faith, and overturn the religion of your ancestors? Ah, tremble! lest the wrath of heaven should kindle against you; and hasten by speedy repentance to retrieve your error.
But, inaccessible to seduction as well as to fear, the free nation kept silence, and rising universally in arms, assumed an imposing attitude.
And the legislator said to the chiefs of nations:
If while we walked with a bandage on our eyes the light guided our steps, why, since we are no longer blindfold, should it fly from our search? If guides, who teach mankind to see for themselves, mislead and deceive them, what can be expected from those who profess to keep them in darkness?
But hark, ye leaders of nations! If you possess the truth, show it to us, and we will receive it with gratitude, for we seek it with ardor, and have a great interest in finding it. We are men, and liable to be deceived; but you are also men, and equally fallible. Aid us then in this labyrinth, where the human race has wandered for so many ages; help us to dissipate the illusion of so many prejudices and vicious habits. Amid the shock of so many opinions which dispute for our acceptance, assist us in discovering the proper and distinctive character of truth. Let us this day terminate the long combat with error. Let us establish between it and truth a solemn contest, to which we will invite the opinions of men of all nations. Let us convoke a general assembly of the nations. Let them be judges in their own cause; and in the debate of all systems, let no champion, no argument, be wanting, either on the side of prejudice or of reason; and let the sentiment of a general and common mass of evidence give birth to a universal concord of opinions and of hearts.
The various groups having taken
their places, an unbounded silence succeeded to the murmurs of the multitude;
and the legislator said:
At these words, a new group, formed in an instant by men from various standards, but not distinguished by any, came forward into the circle; and one of them spoke in the name of the whole:
"Delegates, friends of evidence and virtue! It is not surprising that the subject in question should be enveloped in so many clouds, since, besides its inherent difficulties, thought itself has always been encumbered with superadded obstacles peculiar to this study, where all free enquiry and discussion have been interdicted by the intolerance of every system. But now that our views are permitted to expand, we will expose to open day, and submit to the judgment of nations, that which unprejudiced minds, after long researches, have found to be the most reasonable; and we do this, not with the pretension of imposing a new creed, but with the hope of provoking new lights, and obtaining better information.
"Doctors and instructors of nations! You know what thick darkness covers the nature, the origin, the history of the dogmas which you teach. Imposed by authority, inculcated by education, and maintained by example, they pass from age to age, and strengthen their empire from habit and inattention. But if man, enlightened by reflection and experience, brings to mature examination the prejudices of his childhood, he soon discovers a multitude of incongruities and contradictions which awaken his sagacity and excite his reasoning powers.
"At first, remarking the diversity and opposition of the creeds which divide the nations, he takes courage to question the infallibility which each of them claims, and arming himself with their reciprocal pretensions, he conceives that his senses and his reason, derived immediately from God, are a law not less holy, a guide not less sure, than the mediate and contradictory codes of the prophets.
"If he then examines the texture of these codes themselves, he observes that their laws, pretended to be divine, that is, immutable and eternal, have arisen from circumstances of times, places, and persons; that they have issued one from the other, in a kind of genealogical order, borrowing from each other reciprocally a common and similar fund of ideas, which every lawgiver modifies according to his fancy.
If he ascends to the source of these ideas, he finds it involved in the night of time, in the infancy of nations, even to the origin of the world, to which they claim alliance; and there, placed in the darkness of chaos, in the empire of fables and traditions, they present themselves, accompanied with a state of things so full of prodigies, that it seems to forbid all access to the judgment: but this state itself excites a first effort of reason, which resolves the difficulty; for if the prodigies, found in the theological systems, have really existed--if, for instance, the metamorphoses, the apparitions, the conversations with one or many gods, recorded in the books of the Indians, the Hebrews, the Parses, are historical events, he must agree that nature in those times was totally different from what it is at present; that the present race of men are quite another species from those who then existed; and, therefore, he ought not to trouble his head about them.
"If, on the contrary, these miraculous events have really not existed in the physical order of things, then he readily conceives that they are creatures of the human intellect; and this faculty being still capable of the most fantastical combinations, explains at once the phenomenon of these monsters in history. It only remains, then, to find how and wherefore they have been formed in the imagination. Now, if we examine with care the subjects of these intellectual creations, analyze the ideas which they combine and associate, and carefully weigh all the circumstances which they allege, we shall find that this first obscure and incredible state of things is explained by the laws of nature. We find that these stories of a fabulous kind have a figurative sense different from the apparent one; that these events, pretended to be marvellous, are simple and physical facts, which, being misconceived or misrepresented, have been disfigured by accidental causes dependent on the human mind, by the confusion of signs employed to represent the ideas, the want of precision in words, permanence in language, and perfection in writing; we find that these gods, for instance, who display such singular characters in every system, are only the physical agents of nature, the elements, the winds, the stars, and the meteors, which have been personified by the necessary mechanism of language and of the human understanding; that their lives, their manners, their actions, are only their mechanical operations and connections; and that all their pretended history is only the description of these phenomena, formed by the first naturalists who observed them, and misconceived by the vulgar who did not understand them, or by succeeding generations who forgot them. In a word, all the theological dogmas on the origin of the world, the nature of God, the revelation of his laws, the manifestation of his person, are known to be only the recital of astronomical facts, only figurative and emblematical accounts of the motion of the heavenly bodies. We are convinced that the very idea of a God, that idea at present so obscure, is, in its first origin, nothing but that of the physical powers of the universe, considered sometimes as a plurality by reason of their agencies and phenomena, sometimes as one simple and only being by reason of the universality of the machine and the connection of its parts; so that the being called God has been sometimes the wind, the fire, the water, all the elements; sometimes the sun, the stars, the planets, and their influence; sometimes the matter of the visible world, the totality of the universe; sometimes abstract and metaphysical qualities, such as space, duration, motion, intelligence; and we everywhere see this conclusion, that the idea of God has not been a miraculous revelation of invisible beings, but a natural offspring of the human intellect--an operation of the mind, whose progress it has followed and whose revolutions it has undergone, in all the progress that has been made in the knowledge of the physical world and its agents.
"It is then in vain that nations attribute their religion to heavenly inspirations; it is in vain that their dogmas pretend to a primeval state of supernatural events: the original barbarity of the human race, attested by their own monuments,* belies these assertions at once. But there is one constant and indubitable fact which refutes beyond contradiction all these doubtful accounts of past ages. From this position, that man acquires and receives no ideas but through the medium of his senses,** it follows with certainty that every notion which claims to itself any other origin than that of sensation and experience, is the erroneous supposition of a posterior reasoning: now, it is sufficient to cast an eye upon the sacred systems of the origin of the world, and of the actions of the gods, to discover in every idea, in every word, the anticipation of an order of things which could not exist till a long time after. Reason, strengthened by these contradictions, rejecting everything that is not in the order of nature, and admitting no historical facts but those founded on probabilities, lays open its own system, and pronounces itself with assurance.
* 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.
** 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 co-eternal with the soul; and hence all the reveries developed in Plato and Jamblicus. See the Timoeus, the Phedon, and De Mysteriis Egyptiorum, sect. I, c. 3.
"Before one nation had received from another nation dogmas already invented; before one generation had inherited ideas acquired by a preceding generation, none of these complicated systems could have existed in the world. The first men, being children of nature, anterior to all events, ignorant of all science, were born without any idea of the dogmas arising from scholastic disputes; of rites founded on the practice of arts not then known; of precepts framed after the development of passions; or of laws which suppose a language, a state of society not then in being; or of God, whose attributes all refer to physical objects, and his actions to a despotic state of government; or of the soul, or of any of those metaphysical beings, which we are told are not the objects of sense, and for which, however, there can be no other means of access to the understanding. To arrive at so many results, the necessary circle of preceding facts must have been observed; slow experience and repeated trials must have taught the rude man the use of his organs; the accumulated knowledge of successive generations must have invented and improved the means of living; and the mind, freed from the cares of the first wants of nature, must have raised itself to the complicated art of comparing ideas, of digesting arguments, and seizing abstract similitudes.
I. Origin of
the idea of God: Worship of the elements and of the physical powers of nature.
"It was not till after having overcome these obstacles, and gone through a long career in the night of history, that man, reflecting on his condition, began to perceive that he was subjected to forces superior to his own, and independent of his will. The sun enlightened and warmed him, the fire burned him, the thunder terrified him, the wind beat upon him, the water overwhelmed him. All beings acted upon him powerfully and irresistibly. He sustained this action for a long time, like a machine, without enquiring the cause; but the moment he began his enquiries, he fell into astonishment; and, passing from the surprise of his first reflections to the reverie of curiosity, he began a chain of reasoning.
"First, considering the action of the elements on him, he conceived an idea of weakness and subjection on his part, and of power and domination on theirs; and this idea of power was the primitive and fundamental type of every idea of God.
"Secondly, the action of these natural existences excited in him sensations of pleasure or pain, of good or evil; and by a natural effect of his organization, he conceived for them love or aversion; he desired or dreaded their presence; and fear or hope gave rise to the first idea of religion.
"Then, judging everything by comparison, and remarking in these beings a spontaneous movement like his own, he supposed this movement directed by a will,--an intelligence of the nature of his own; and hence, by induction, he formed a new reasoning. Having experienced that certain practices towards his fellow creatures had the effect to modify their affections and direct their conduct to his advantage, he resorted to the same practices towards these powerful beings of the universe. He reasoned thus with himself: When my fellow creature, stronger than I, is disposed to do me injury, I abase myself before him, and my prayer has the art to calm him. I will pray to these powerful beings who strike me. I will supplicate the intelligences of the winds, of the stars, of the waters, and they will hear me. I will conjure them to avert the evil and give me the good that is at their disposal; I will move them by my tears, I will soften them by offerings, and I shall be happy.
"Thus simple man, in the infancy of his reason, spoke to the sun and to the moon; he animated with his own understanding and passions the great agents of nature; he thought by vain sounds, and vain actions, to change their inflexible laws. Fatal error! He prayed the stone to ascend, the water to mount above its level, the mountains to remove, and substituting a fantastical world for the real one, he peopled it with imaginary beings, to the terror of his mind and the torment of his race.
"In this manner the ideas of God and religion have sprung, like all others, from physical objects; they were produced in the mind of man from his sensations, from his wants, from the circumstances of his life, and the progressive state of his knowledge.
"Now, as the ideas of God had their first models in physical agents, it followed that God was at first varied and manifold, like the form under which he appeared to act. Every being was a Power, a Genius; and the first men conceived the universe filled with innumerable gods.
"Again the ideas of God have been created by the affections of the human heart; they became necessarily divided into two classes, according to the sensations of pleasure or pain, love or hatred, which they inspired.
"The forces of nature, the gods and genii, were divided into beneficent and malignant, good and evil powers; and hence the universality of these two characters in all the systems of religion.
"These ideas, analogous to the condition of their inventors, were for a long time confused and ill-digested. Savage men, wandering in the woods, beset with wants and destitute of resources, had not the leisure to combine principles and draw conclusions; affected with more evils than they found pleasures, their most habitual sentiment was that of fear, their theology terror; their worship was confined to a few salutations and offerings to beings whom they conceived as greedy and ferocious as themselves. In their state of equality and independence, no man offered himself as mediator between men and gods as insubordinate and poor as himself. No one having superfluities to give, there existed no parasite by the name of priest, no tribute by the name of victim, no empire by the name of altar. Their dogmas and their morals were the same thing, it was only self-preservation; and religion, that arbitrary idea, without influence on the mutual relations of men, was a vain homage rendered to the visible powers of nature.
"Such was the necessary and original idea of God."
And the orator, addressing himself to the savage nations, continued:
"We appeal to you, men who have received no foreign and factitious ideas; tell us, have you ever gone beyond what I have described? And you, learned doctors, we call you to witness; is not this the unanimous testimony of all ancient monuments?*
* 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, Proepar. Evang. lib. 3, ch. 1, p. 83.
The majority of philosophers, says Porphyry, and among others Haeremon (who lived in Egypt in the first age of Christianity), imagine there never to have been any other world than the one we see, and acknowledged no other Gods of all those recognized by the Egyptians, than such as are commonly called planets, signs of the Zodiac, and constellations; whose aspects, that is, rising and setting, are supposed to influence the fortunes of men; to which they add their divisions of the signs into decans and dispensers of time, whom they style lords of the ascendant, whose names, virtues in relieving distempers, rising, setting, and presages of future events, are the subjects of almanacs (for be it observed, that the Egyptian priests had almanacs the exact counterpart of Matthew Lansberg's); for when the priests affirmed that the sun was the architect of the universe, Chaeremon presently concludes that all their narratives respecting Isis and Osiris, together with their other sacred fables, referred in part to the planets, the phases of the moon, and the revolution of the sun, and in part to the stars of the daily and nightly hemispheres and the river Nile; in a word, in all cases to physical and natural existences and never to such as might be immaterial and incorporeal. . . .
All these philosophers believe that the acts of our will and the motion of our bodies depend on those of the stars to which they are subjected, and they refer every thing to the laws of physical necessity, which they call destiny or Fatum, supposing a chain of causes and effects which binds, by I know not what connection, all beings together, from the meanest atom to the supremest power and primary influence of the Gods; so that, whether in their temples or in their idols, the only subject of worship is the power of destiny. Porphyr. Epist. ad Janebonem.
II. Second system: Worship of the Stars, or Sabeism.
"But those same monuments present us likewise a system more methodical and more complicated--that of the worship of all the stars; adored sometimes in their proper forms, sometimes under figurative emblems and symbols; and this worship was the effect of the knowledge men had acquired in physics, and was derived immediately from the first causes of the social state; that is, from the necessities and arts of the first degree, which are among the elements of society.
"Indeed, as soon as men began to unite in society, it became necessary for them to multiply the means of subsistence, and consequently to attend to agriculture: agriculture, to be carried on with success, requires the observation and knowledge of the heavens. It was necessary to know the periodical return of the same operations of nature, and the same phenomena in the skies; indeed to go so far as to ascertain the duration and succession of the seasons and the months of the year. It was indispensable to know, in the first place, the course of the sun, who, in his zodiacal revolution, shows himself the supreme agent of the whole creation; then, of the moon, who, by her phases and periods, regulates and distributes time; then, of the stars, and even of the planets, which by their appearance and disappearance on the horizon and nocturnal hemisphere, marked the minutest divisions. Finally, it was necessary to form a whole system of astronomy,* or a calendar; and from these works there naturally followed a new manner of considering these predominant and governing powers. Having observed that the productions of the earth had a regular and constant relation with the heavenly bodies; that the rise, growth, and decline of each plant kept pace with the appearance, elevation, and declination of the same star or the same group of stars; in short, that the languor or activity of vegetation seemed to depend on celestial influences, men drew from thence an idea of action, of power, in those beings, superior to earthly bodies; and the stars, dispensing plenty or scarcity, became powers, genii,** gods, authors of good and evil.
* 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.
** It appears that by the word genius, the ancients denoted a quality, a generative power; for the following words, which are all of one family, convey this meaning: generare, genos, genesis, genus, gens.
"As the state of society had already introduced a regular hierarchy of ranks, employments and conditions, men, continuing to reason by comparison, carried their new notions into their theology, and formed a complicated system of divinities by gradation of rank, in which the sun, as first god,* was a military chief or a political king: the moon was his wife and queen; the planets were servants, bearers of commands, messengers; and the multitude of stars were a nation, an army of heroes, genii, whose office was to govern the world under the orders of their chiefs. All the individuals had names, functions, attributes, drawn from their relations and influences; and even sexes, from the gender of their appellations.**
* The Sabeans, ancient and modern, says Maimonides, acknowledge a principal God, the maker and inhabitant of heaven; but on account of his great distance they conceive him to be inaccessible; and in imitation of the conduct of people towards their kings, they employ as mediators with him, the planets and their angels, whom they call princes and potentates, and whom they suppose to reside in those luminous bodies as in palaces or tabernacles, etc. More-Nebuchim.
** 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.
"And as the social state had introduced certain usages and ceremonies, religion, keeping pace with the social state, adopted similar ones; these ceremonies, at first simple and private, became public and solemn; the offerings became rich and more numerous, and the rites more methodical; they assigned certain places for the assemblies, and began to have chapels and temples; they instituted officers to administer them, and these became priests and pontiffs: they established liturgies, and sanctified certain days, and religion became a civil act, a political tie.
"But in this arrangement, religion did not change its first principles; the idea of God was always that of physical beings, operating good or evil, that is, impressing sensations of pleasure or pain: the dogma was the knowledge of their laws, or their manner of acting; virtue and sin, the observance or infraction of these laws; and morality, in its native simplicity, was the judicious practice of whatever contributes to the preservation of existence, the well-being of one's self and his fellow creatures.*
* We may add, says Plutarch, that these Egyptian priests always regarded the preservation of health as a point of the 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.
"Should it be asked at what epoch this system took its birth, we shall answer on the testimony of the monuments of astronomy itself; that its principles appear with certainty to have been established about seventeen thousand years ago,* and if it be asked to what people it is to be attributed, we shall answer that the same monuments, supported by unanimous traditions, attribute it to the first tribes of Egypt; and when reason finds in that country all the circumstances which could lead to such a system; when it finds there a zone of sky, bordering on the tropic, equally free from the rains of the equator and the fogs of the North;** when it finds there a central point of the sphere of the ancients, a salubrious climate, a great, but manageable river, a soil fertile without art or labor, inundated without morbid exhalations, and placed between two seas which communicate with the richest countries, it conceives that the inhabitant of the Nile, addicted to agriculture from the nature of his soil, to geometry from the annual necessity of measuring his lands, to commerce from the facility of communications, to astronomy from the state of his sky, always open to observation, must have been the first to pass from the savage to the social state; and consequently to attain the physical and moral sciences necessary to civilized life.
* The historical orator follows here the opinion of M. Dupuis, who, in his learned memoirs concerning the Origin of the Constellations and Origin of all Worship, has assigned many plausible reasons to prove that Libra was formerly the sign of the vernal, and Aries of the autumnal equinox; that is, that since the origin of the actual astronomical system, the precession of the equinoxes has carried forward by seven signs the primitive order of the zodiac. Now estimating the precession 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; now, if you add 1790 years since Christ, it appears that 16,984 years have elapsed since the origin of the Zodiac. The vernal equinox coincided with the first degree of Aries, 2,504 years before Christ, and with the first degree of Taurus 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, etc.; from whence it clearly follows, that some general revolution took place among these 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. See on this subject the analysis of Genesis, in the first volume of New Researches on Ancient History; see also Origin of Constellatians, by Dupuis, 1781; the Origin of Worship, in 3 vols. 1794, and the Chronological Zodiac, 1806.
** M. Balli, in placing the first astronomers at Selingenakoy, near the Bailkal 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.
"It was, then, on the borders of the upper Nile, among a black race of men, that was organized the complicated system of the worship of the stars, considered in relation to the productions of the earth and the labors of agriculture; and this first worship, characterized by their adoration under their own forms and natural attributes, was a simple proceeding of the human mind. But in a short time, the multiplicity of the objects of their relations, and their reciprocal influence, having complicated the ideas, and the signs that represented them, there followed a confusion as singular in its cause as pernicious in its effects.
III. Third system. Worship of Symbols, or Idolatry.
"As soon as this agricultural people began to observe the stars with attention, they found it necessary to individualize or group them; and to assign to each a proper name, in order to understand each other in their designation. A great difficulty must have presented itself in this business: First, the heavenly bodies, similar in form, offered no distinguishing characteristics by which to denominate them; and, secondly, the language in its infancy and poverty, had no expressions for so many new and metaphysical ideas. Necessity, the usual stimulus of genius, surmounted everything. Having remarked that in the annual revolution, the renewal and periodical appearance of terrestrial productions were constantly associated with the rising and setting of certain stars, and to their position as relative to the sun, the fundamental term of all comparison, the mind by a natural operation connected in thought these terrestrial and celestial objects, which were connected in fact; and applying to them a common sign, it gave to the stars, and their groups, the names of the terrestrial objects to which they answered.*
* "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.
"Thus the Ethopian of Thebes named stars of inundation, or Aquarius, those stars under which the Nile began to overflow;* stars of the ox or the bull, those under which they began to plow; stars of the lion, those under which that animal, driven from the desert by thirst, appeared on the banks of the Nile; stars of the sheaf, or of the harvest virgin, those of the reaping season; stars of the lamb, stars of the two kids, those under which these precious animals were brought forth: and thus was resolved the first part of the difficulty.
* This must have been June.
"Moreover, man having remarked in the beings which surrounded him certain qualities distinctive and proper to each species, and having thence derived a name by which to designate them, he found in the same source an ingenious mode of generalizing his ideas; and transferring the name already invented to every thing which bore any resemblance or analogy, he enriched his language with a perpetual round of metaphors.
"Thus the same Ethiopian having observed that the return of the inundation always corresponded with the rising of a beautiful star which appeared towards the source of the Nile, and seemed to warn the husbandman against the coming waters, he compared this action to that of the animal who, by his barking, gives notice of danger, and he called this star the dog, the barker (Sirius). In the same manner he named the stars of the crab, those where the sun, having arrived at the tropic, retreated by a slow retrograde motion like the crab or cancer. He named stars of the wild goat, or Capricorn, those where the sun, having reached the highest point in his annuary tract, rests at the summit of the horary gnomon, and imitates the goat, who delights to climb the summit of the rocks. He named stars of the balance, or libra, those where the days and nights, being equal, seemed in equilibrium, like that instrument; and stars of the scorpion, those where certain periodical winds bring vapors, burning like the venom 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 the planets, and such was the general mode of naming all the stars and even the planets, taken by groups or as individuals, according to their relations with husbandry and terrestrial objects, and according to the analogies which each nation found between them and the objects of its particular soil and climate.*
* The ancients had verbs from the substantives crab, goat, tortoise, as the French have at present the verbs serpenter, coquetter. The history of all languages is nearly the same.
"From this it appeared that abject and terrestrial beings became associated with the superior and powerful inhabitants of heaven; and this association became stronger every day by the mechanism of language and the constitution of the human mind. Men would say by a natural metaphor: The bull spreads over the earth the germs of fecundity (in spring) he restores vegetation and plenty: the lamb (or ram) delivers the skies from the maleficent powers of winter; he saves the world from the serpent (emblem of the humid season) and restores the empire of goodness (summer, joyful season): the scorpion pours out his poison on the earth, and scatters diseases and death. The same of all similar effects.
"This language, understood by every one, was attended at first with no inconvenience; but in the course of time, when the calendar had been regulated, the people, who had no longer any need of observing the heavens, lost sight of the original meaning of these expressions; and the allegories remaining in common use became a fatal stumbling block to the understanding and to reason. Habituated to associate to the symbols the ideas of their archetypes, the mind at last confounded them: then the same animals, whom fancy had transported to the skies, returned again to the earth; but being thus returned, clothed in the livery of the stars, they claimed the stellary attributes, and imposed on their own authors. Then it was that the people, believing that they saw their gods among them, could pray to them with more convenience: they demanded from the ram of their flock the influences which might be expected from the heavenly ram; they prayed the scorpion not to pour out his venom upon nature; they revered the crab of the sea, the scarabeus of the mud, the fish of the river; and by a series of corrupt but inseparable analogies, they lost themselves in a labyrinth of well connected absurdities.
"Such was the origin of that ancient whimsical worship of the animals; such is the train of ideas by which the character of the divinity became common to the vilest of brutes, and by which was formed that theological system, extremely comprehensive, complicated, and learned, which, rising on the borders of the Nile, propagated from country to country by commerce, war, and conquest, overspread the whole of the ancient world; and which, modified by time, circumstances and prejudices, is still seen entire among a hundred nations, and remains as the essential and secret basis of the theology of those even who despise and reject it."
Some murmurs at these words being heard from various groups: "Yes!" continued the orator, "hence arose, for instance, among you, nations of Africa, the adoration of your fetiches, plants, animals, pebbles, pieces of wood, before which your ancestors would not have had the folly to bow, if they had not seen in them talismans endowed with the virtue of the stars.*
* The ancient astrologers, says the most learned of the Jews (Maimonides), having sacredly assigned to each planet a color, 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 favorable 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 modeled. 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 color. The astrologers, by their practices, thus introduced idolatry, desirous of being regarded as the dispensers of the favors 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, etc. See Maimonides, More Nebuchim, pars 3, c. 29.
The priests of Egypt, Persia, India, etc., pretended to bind the Gods to their idols, and to make them come from heaven at their pleasure. They threatened the sun and moon, if they were disobedient, to reveal the secret mysteries, to shake the skies, etc., etc. Euseb. Proecep. Evang. p. 198, and Jamblicus de Mysteriis Aegypt.
"Here, ye nations of Tartary, is the origin of your marmosets, and of all that train of animals with which your chamans ornament their magical robes. This is the origin of those figures of birds and of snakes which savage nations imprint upon their skins with sacred and mysterious ceremonies.
"Ye inhabitants of India! 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 your incarnations of a god in the fish, the boar, the lion, the tortoise, and all his monstrous adventures, are only the metamorphoses of the sun, who, passing through the signs of the twelve animals (or the zodiac), was supposed to assume their figures, and perform their astronomical functions.*
* These are the very words of Jamblicus de Symbolis Aegyptiorum, c. 2, sect. 7. The sun was the grand Proteus, the universal metamorphist.
"People of Japan, your bull, which breaks the mundane egg, is only the bull of the zodiac, which in former times opened the seasons, the age of creation, the vernal equinox. It is the same bull Apis which Egypt adored, and which your ancestors, Jewish Rabbins, worshipped in the golden calf. This is still your bull, followers of Zoroaster, which, sacrificed in the symbolic mysteries of Mithra, poured out his blood which fertilized the earth. And ye Christians, your bull of the Apocalypse, with his wings, symbol of the air, has no other origin; and your lamb of God, sacrificed, like the bull of Mithra, for the salvation of the world, is only the same sun, in the sign of the celestial ram, which, in a later age, opening the equinox in his turn, was supposed to deliver the world from evil, that is to say, from the constellation of the serpent, from that great snake, the parent of winter, the emblem of the Ahrimanes, or Satan of the Persians, your school masters. Yes, in vain does your imprudent zeal consign idolaters to the torments of the Tartarus which they invented; the whole basis of your system is only the worship of the sun, with whose attributes you have decorated your principal personage. It is the sun which, under the name of Horus, was born, like your God, at the winter solstice, in the arms of the celestial virgin, and who passed a childhood of obscurity, indigence, and want, answering to the season of cold and frost. It is he that, under the name of Osiris, persecuted by Typhon and by the tyrants of the air, was put to death, shut up in a dark tomb, emblem of the hemisphere of winter, and afterwards, ascending from the inferior zone towards the zenith of heaven, arose again from the dead triumphant over the giants and the angels of destruction.
"Ye priests! who murmur at this relation, you wear his emblems all over your bodies; your tonsure is the disk of the sun; your stole is his zodiac;* your rosaries are symbols of the stars and planets. Ye pontiffs and prelates! your mitre, your crozier, your mantle are those of Osiris; and that cross whose mystery you extol 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 the future life and of the resurrection, because it touched the gates of ivory and of horn, through which the soul passed to heaven."
* "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 is 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 upon his head. . . .
The robes of the goddess of Syria and of Diana of Ephesus, from whence are borrowed the dress of the 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 from time immemorial. . . .
The crozier is precisely the staff of Bootes or Osiris. (See plate.)
All the Lamas wear the mitre or cap in the shape of a cone, which was an emblem of the sun.
At these words, the doctors of all the groups began to look at each other with astonishment; but no one breaking silence, the orator proceeded:
"Three principal causes concur to produce this confusion of ideas: First, the figurative expressions under which an infant language was obliged to describe the relations of objects; expressions which, passing afterwards from a limited to a general sense, and from a physical to a moral one, caused, by their ambiguities and synonymes, a great number of mistakes.
"Thus, it being first said that the sun had surmounted, or finished, twelve animals, it was thought afterwards that he had killed them, fought them, conquered them; and of this was composed the historical life of Hercules.*
* See the memoir of Dupuis on the Origin of the Constellations, before cited.
"It being said that he regulated the periods of rural labor, the seed time and the harvest, that he distributed the seasons and occupations, ran through the climates and ruled the earth, etc., he was taken for a legislative king, a conquering warrior; and they framed from this the history of Osiris, of Bacchus, and others of that description.
"Having said that a planet entered into a sign, they made of this conjunction a marriage, an adultery, an incest.* Having said that the planet was hid or buried, when it came back to light, and ascended to its exaltation, they said that it had died, risen again, was carried into heaven, etc.
* 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 eam. From this continual equivoke of ancient language, proceeds every mistake.
"A second cause of confusion was the material figures themselves, by which men first painted thoughts; and which, under the name of hieroglyphics, or sacred characters, were the first invention of the mind. Thus, to give warning of the inundation, and of the necessity of guarding against it, they painted a boat, the ship Argo; to express the wind, they painted the wing of a bird; to designate the season, or the month, they painted the bird of passage, the insect, or the animal which made its appearance at that period; to describe the winter, they painted a hog or a serpent, which delight in humid places, and the combination of these figures carried the known sense of words and phrases.* But as this sense could not be fixed with precision, as the number of these figures and their combinations became excessive, and overburdened the memory, the immediate consequence was confusion and false interpretations. Genius afterwards having invented the more simple art of applying signs to sounds, of which the number is limited, and painting words, instead of thoughts, alphabetical writing thus threw into disuetude hieroglyphical painting; and its signification, falling daily into oblivion, gave rise to a multitude of illusions, ambiguities, and errors.
* The reader will doubtless see with pleasure some examples of ancient hieroglyphics.
"The Egyptians (says Hor-appolo) represent eternity by the figures of the sun and moon. They designate the world by the blue serpent with yellow scales (stars, it is the Chinese Dragon). If they were desirous of expressing the year, they drew a picture of Isis, who is also in their language called Sothis, or dog-star, one of the first constellations, by the rising of which the year commences; its inscription at Sais was, It is I that rise in the constellation of the Dog.
"They also represent the year by a palm tree, and the month by one of its branches, because it is the nature of this tree to produce a branch every month. They farther represent it by the fourth part of an acre of land." The whole acre divided into four denotes the bissextile period of four years. The abbreviation of this figure of a field in four divisions, is manifestly the letter ha or het, the seventh in the Samaritan alphabet; and in general all the letters of the alphabet are merely astronomical hieroglyphics; and it is for this reason that the mode of writing is from right to left, like the march of the stars.--"They denote a prophet by the image of a dog, because the dog star (Anoubis) by its rising gives notice of the inundation. Noubi, in Hebrew signifies prophet--They represent inundation by a lion, because it takes place under that sign: and hence, says Plutarch, the custom of placing at the gates of temples figures of lions with water issuing from their mouths.-- They express the idea of God and destiny by a star. They also represent God, says Porphyry, by a black stone, because his nature is dark and obscure. All white things express the celestial and luminous Gods: all circular ones the world, the moon, the sun, the orbits; all semicircular ones, as bows and crescents are descriptive of the moon. Fire and the Gods of Olympus they represent by pyramids and obelisks (the name of the sun, Baal, is found in this latter word): the sun by a cone (the mitre of Osiris): the earth, by a cylinder (which revolves): the generative power of the air by the phalus, and that of the earth by a triangle, emblem of the female organ. Euseb. Proecep. Evang. p. 98.
"Clay, says Jamblicus de Symbolis, sect. 7, c. 2. denotes matter, the generative and nutrimental power, every thing which receives the warmth and fermentation of life."
"A man sitting upon the Lotos or Nenuphar, represents the moving spirit (the sun) which, in like manner as that plant lives in the water without any communication with clay, exists equally distinct from matter, swimming in empty space, resting on itself: it is round also in all its parts, like the leaves, the flowers, and the fruit of the Lotos. (Brama has the eyes of the Lotos, says Chasler Nesdirsen, to denote his intelligence: his eye swims over every thing, like the flower of the Lotos on the waters.) A man at the helm of a ship, adds Jamblicus, is descriptive of the sun which governs all. And Porphyry tells us that the sun is also represented by a man in a ship resting upon an amphibious crocodile (emblem of air and water).
"At Elephantine they worshipped the figure of a man in a sitting posture, painted blue, having the head of a ram, and the horns of a goat which encompassed a disk; all which represented the sun and moon's conjunction at the sign of the ram; the blue color denoting the power of the moon, at the period of junction, to raise water into the clouds. Euseb. Proecep. Evang. p. 116.
"The hawk is an emblem of the sun and of light, on account of his rapid flight and his soaring into the highest regions of the air where light abounds.
A fish is the emblem of aversion, and the Hippopotamus of violence, because it is said to kill its father and to ravish its mother. Hence, says Plutarch, the emblematical inscription of the temple of Sais, where we see painted on the vestibule, 1. A child, 2. An old man, 3. A hawk, 4. A fish, 5. A hippopotamus: which signify, 1. Entrance, into life, 2. Departure, 3. God, 4. Hates, 5. Injustice. See Isis and Osiris.
"The Egyptians, adds he, represent the world by a Scarabeus, because this insect pushes, in a direction contrary to that in which it proceeds, a ball containing its eggs, just as the heaven of the fixed stars causes the revolution of the sun, (the yolk of an egg) in an opposite direction to its own.
"They represent the world also by the number five, being that of the elements, which, says Diodorus, are earth, water, air, fire, and ether, or spiritus. The Indians have the same number of elements, and according to Macrobius's mystics, they are the supreme God, or primum mobile, the intelligence, or mens, born of him, the soul of the world which proceeds from him, the celestial spheres, and all things terrestrial. Hence, adds Plutarch, the analogy between the Greek pente, five, and pan all.
"The ass," says he again, "is the emblem of Typhon, because like that animal he is of a reddish color. Now Typhon signifies whatever is of a mirey or clayey nature; (and in Hebrew I find the three words clay, red, and ass to be formed from the same root hamr. Jamblicus has farther told us that clay was the emblem of matter and he elsewhere adds, that all evil and corruption proceeded from matter; which compared with the phrase of Macrobius, all is perishable, liable to change in the celestial sphere, gives us the theory, first physical, then moral, of the system of good and evil of the ancients."
"Finally, a third cause of confusion was the civil organization of ancient states. When the people began to apply themselves to agriculture, the formation of a rural calendar, requiring a continued series of astronomical observations, it became necessary to appoint certain individuals charged with the functions of watching the appearance and disappearance of certain stars, to foretell the return of the inundation, of certain winds, of the rainy season, the proper time to sow every kind of grain. These men, on account of their service, were exempt from common labor, and the society provided for their maintenance. With this provision, and wholly employed in their observations, they soon became acquainted with the great phenomena of nature, and even learned to penetrate the secret of many of her operations. They discovered the movement of the stars and planets, the coincidence of their phases and returns with the productions of the earth and the action of vegetation; the medicinal and nutritive properties of plants and fruits; the action of the elements, and their reciprocal affinities. Now, as there was no other method of communicating the knowledge of these discoveries but the laborious one of oral instruction, they transmitted it only to their relations and friends, it followed therefore that all science and instruction were confined to a few families, who, arrogating it to themselves as an exclusive privilege, assumed a professional distinction, a corporation spirit, fatal to the public welfare. This continued succession of the same researches and the same labors, hastened, it is true, the progress of knowledge; but by the mystery which accompanied it, the people were daily plunged in deeper shades, and became more superstitious and more enslaved. Seeing their fellow mortals produce certain phenomena, announce, as at pleasure, eclipses and comets, heal diseases, and handle venomous serpents, they thought them in alliance with celestial powers; and, to obtain the blessings and avert the evils which they expected from above, they took them for mediators and interpreters; and thus became established in the bosom of every state sacrilegious corporations of hypocritical and deceitful men, who centered all powers in themselves; and the priests, being at once astronomers, theologians, naturalists, physicians, magicians, interpreters of the gods, oracles of men, and rivals of kings, or their accomplices, established, under the name of religion, an empire of mystery and a monopoly of instruction, which to this day have ruined every nation. . . ."
Here the priests of all the groups interrupted the orator, and with loud cries accused him of impiety, irreligion, blasphemy; and endeavored to cut short his discourse; but the legislator observing that this was only an exposition of historical facts, which, if false or forged, would be easily refuted; that hitherto the declaration of every opinion had been free, and without this it would be impossible to discover the truth, the orator proceeded:
"Now, from all these causes, and from the continual associations of ill-assorted ideas, arose a mass of disorders in theology, in morals, and in traditions; first, because the animals represented the stars, the characters of the animals, their appetites, their sympathies, their aversions, passed over to the gods, and were supposed to be their actions; thus, the god Ichneumon made war against the god Crocodile; the god Wolf liked to eat the god Sheep; the god Ibis devoured the god Serpent; and the deity became a strange, capricious, and ferocious being, whose idea deranged the judgment of man, and corrupted his morals and his reason.
"Again, because in the spirit of their worship every family, every nation, took for its special patron a star or a constellation, the affections or antipathies of the symbolic animal were transferred to its sectaries; and the partisans of the god Dog were enemies to those of the god Wolf;* those who adored the god Ox had an abhorrence to those who ate him; and religion became the source of hatred and hostility,--the senseless cause of frenzy and 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 and Osiris.
"Besides, the names of those animal-stars having, for this same reason of patronage, been conferred on countries, nations, mountains, and rivers, these objects were taken for gods, and hence followed a mixture of geographical, historical, and mythological beings, which confounded all traditions.
"Finally, by the analogy of actions which were ascribed to them, the god-stars, having been taken for men, for heroes, for kings, kings and heroes took in their turn the actions of gods for models, and by imitation became warriors, conquerors, proud, lascivious, indolent, sanguinary; and religion consecrated the crimes of despots, and perverted the principles of government.
IV. Fourth system. Worship of two Principles, or Dualism.
"In the mean time, the astronomical priests, enjoying peace and abundance in their temples, made every day new progress in the sciences, and the system of the world unfolding gradually to their view, they raised successively various hypotheses as to its agents and effects, which became so many theological systems.
"The voyages of the maritime nations and the caravans of the nomads of Asia and Africa, having given them a knowledge of the earth from the Fortunate Islands to Serica, and from the Baltic to the sources of the Nile, the comparison of the phenomena of the various zones taught them the rotundity of the earth, and gave birth to a new theory. Having remarked that all the operations of nature during the annual period were reducible to two principal ones, that of producing and that of destroying; that on the greater part of the globe these two operations were performed in the intervals of the two equinoxes; that is to say, during the six months of summer every thing was procreating and multiplying, and that during winter everything languished and almost died; they supposed in Nature two contrary powers, which were in a continual state of contention and exertion; and considering the celestial sphere in this view, they divided the images which they figured upon it into two halves or hemispheres; so that the constellations which were on the summer heaven formed a direct and superior empire; and those which were on the winter heaven composed an antipode and inferior empire. Therefore, as the constellations of summer accompanied the season of long, warm, and unclouded days, and that of fruits and harvests, they were considered as the powers of light, fecundity, and creation; and, by a transition from a physical to a moral sense, they became genii, angels of science, of beneficence, of purity and virtue. And as the constellations of winter were connected with long nights and polar fogs, they were the genii of darkness, of destruction, of death; and by transition, angels of ignorance, of wickedness, of sin and vice. By this arrangement the heaven was divided into two domains, two factions; and the analogy of human ideas already opened a vast field to the errors of imagination; but the mistake and the illusion were determined, if not occasioned by a particular circumstance. (Observe plate Astrological Heaven of the Ancients.)
"In the projection of the celestial sphere, as traced by the astronomical priests,* the zodiac and the constellations, disposed in circular order, presented their halves in diametrical opposition; the hemisphere of winter, antipode of that of summer, was adverse, contrary, opposed to it. By a continual metaphor, these words acquired a moral sense; and the adverse genii, or angels, became revolted enemies.** From that moment all the astronomical history of the constellations was changed into a political history ; the heavens became a human state, where things happened as on the earth. Now, as the earthly states, the greater part despotic, had already their monarchs, and as the sun was apparently the monarch of the skies, the summer hemisphere (empire of light) and its constellations (a nation of white angels) had for king an enlightened God, a creator intelligent and good. And as every rebel faction must have its chief, the heaven of winter, the subterranean empire of darkness and woe, and its stars, a nation of black angels, giants and demons, had for their chief a malignant genius, whose character was applied by different people to the constellation which to them was the most remarkable. In Egypt it was at first the Scorpion, first zodiacal sign after Libra, and for a long time chief of the winter signs ; then it was the Bear, or the polar Ass, called Typhon, that is to say, deluge,** on account of the rains which deluge the earth during the dominion of that star. At a later period,*** in Persia,**** it was the Serpent, who, under the name of Abrimanes, formed the basis of the system of Zoroaster; and it is the same, O Christians and Jews! that has become your serpent of Eve (the celestial virgin,) and that of the cross; in both cases it is the emblem of Satan, the enemy and great adversary of the Ancient of Days, sung by Daniel.
* The ancient priests had three kinds of spheres, which it may be useful to make known to the reader.
"We read in Eusebius," says Porphyry, "that Zoroaster was the first who, having fixed upon a cavern pleasantly situated in the mountains adjacent to Persia, formed the idea of consecrating it to Mithra (the sun) creator and father of all things: that is to say, having made in this cavern several geometrical divisions, representing the seasons and the elements, he imitated on a small scale the order and disposition of the universe by Mithra. After Zoroaster, it became a custom to consecrate caverns for the celebration of mysteries: so that in like manner as temples were dedicated to the Gods, rural altars to heroes and terrestrial deities, etc., subterranean abodes to infernal deities, so caverns and grottoes were consecrated to the world, to the universe, and to the nymphs: and from hence Pythagoras and Plato borrowed the idea of calling the earth a cavern, a cave, de Antro Nympharum.
Such was the first projection of the sphere in relief; though the Persians give the honor of the invention to Zoroaster, it is doubtless due to the Egyptians; for we may suppose from this projection being the most simple that it was the most ancient; the caverns of Thebes, full of similar pictures, tend to strengthen this opinion.
The following was the second projection: "The prophets or hierophants," says Bishop Synnesius, "who had been initiated in the mysteries, do not permit the common workmen to form idols or images of the Gods; but they descend themselves into the sacred caves, where they have concealed coffers containing certain spheres upon which they construct those images secretly and without the knowledge of the people, who despise simple and natural things and wish for prodigies and fables." (Syn. in Calvit.) That is, the ancient priests had armillary spheres like ours; and this passage, which so well agrees with that of Chaeremon, gives us the key to all their theological astrology.
Lastly, they had flat models of the nature of Plate V. with the difference that they were of a very complicated nature, having every fictitious division of decan and subdecan, with the hieroglyphic signs of their influence. Kircher has given us a copy of one of them in his Egyptian Oedipus, and Gybelin a figured fragment in his book of the calendar (under the name of the Egyptian Zodiac). The ancient Egyptians, says the astrologer Julius Firmicus, (Astron. lib. ii. and lib. iv., c. 16), divide each sign of the Zodiac into three sections; and each section was under the direction of an imaginary being whom they called decan or chief of ten; so that there were three decans a month, and thirty- six a year. Now these decans, who were also called Gods (Theoi), regulated the destinies of mankind--and they were placed particularly in certain stars. They afterwards imagined in every ten three other Gods, whom they called arbiters; so that there were nine for every month, and these were farther divided into an infinite number of powers. The Persians and Indians made their spheres on similar plans; and if a picture thereof were to be drawn from the description given by Scaliger at the end of Manilius, we should find in it a complete explanation of their hieroglyphics, for every article forms one.
** If it was for this reason the Persians always wrote the name of Ahrimanes inverted thus: ['Ahrimanes' upside down and backwards].
*** 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 purification by fire and by water; for having denominated the tropic of Cancer the gate of heaven, and the genial heat of celestial fire, and that of Capricorn the gate of deluge or of water, it was imagined that the spirit or souls who passed through these gates in their way to and from heaven, were roasted or bathed: hence the baptism of Mithra; and the passage through flames, observed throughout the East long before Moses.
**** That is when the ram became the equinoctial sign, or rather when the alteration of the skies showed that it was no longer the bull.
"In Syria, it was the hog or wild boar, enemy of Adonis; because in that country the functions of the Northern Bear were performed by the animal whose inclination for mire and dirt was emblematic of winter. And this is the reason, followers of Moses and Mahomet! that you hold him in horror, in imitation of the priests of Memphis and Balbec, who detested him as the murderer of their God, the sun. This likewise, O Indians! is the type of your Chib-en; and it has been likewise the Pluto of your brethren, the Romans and Greeks; in like manner, your Brama, God the creator, is only the Persian Ormuzd, and the Egyptian Osiris, whose very name expresses creative power, producer of forms. And these gods received a worship analogous to their attributes, real or imaginary; which worship was divided into two branches, according to their characters. The good god receives a worship of love and joy, from which are derived all religious acts of gaiety, such as festivals, dances, banquets, offerings of flowers, milk, honey, perfumes; in a word, everything grateful to the senses and to the soul.* The evil god, on the contrary, received a worship of fear and pain; whence originated all religious acts of the gloomy sort,** tears, desolations, mournings, self-denials, bloody offerings, and cruel sacrifices.
* 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.
** "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. Proep. Ev., p. 173.
"The Egyptians," says Plutarch, "only offer bloody victims to Typhon. They sacrifice to him a red ox, and the animal immolated is held in execration and loaded with all the sins of the people." The goat of Moses. See Isis and Osiris.
Strabo says, speaking of Moses, and the Jews, "Circumcision and the prohibition of certain kinds of meat sprung from superstition." And I observe, respecting the ceremony of circumcision, that its object was to take from the symbol of Osiris, (Phallus) the pretended obstacle to fecundity: an obstacle which bore the seal of Typhon, "whose nature," says Plutarch, "is made up of all that hinders, opposes, causes obstruction."
"Hence arose that distinction of terrestrial beings into pure and impure, sacred and abominable, according as their species were of the number of the constellations of one of these two gods, and made part of his domain; and this produced, on the one hand, the superstitions concerning pollutions and purifications; and, on the other, the pretended efficacious virtues of amulets and talismans.
"You conceive now," continued the orator, addressing himself to the Persians, the Indians, the Jews, the Christians, the Mussulmans, "you conceive the origin of those ideas of battles and rebellions, which equally abound in all your mythologies. You see what is meant by white and black angels, your cherubim and seraphim, with heads of eagles, of lions, or of bulls; your deus, devils, demons, with horns of goats and tails of serpents; your thrones and dominions, ranged in seven orders or gradations, like the seven spheres of the planets; all beings acting the same parts, and endowed with the same attributes in your Vedas, Bibles, and Zend- avestas, whether they have for chiefs Ormuzd or Brama, Typhon or Chiven, Michael or Satan;--whether they appear under the form of giants with a hundred arms and feet of serpents, or that of gods metamorphosed into lions, storks, bulls or cats, as they are in the sacred fables of the Greeks and Egyptians. You perceive the successive filiation of these ideas, and how, in proportion to their remoteness from their source, and as the minds of men became refined, their gross forms have been polished, and rendered less disgusting.
"But in the same manner as you have seen the system of two opposite principles or gods arise from that of symbols, interwoven into its texture, your attention shall now be called to a new system which has grown out of this, and to which this has served in its turn as the basis and support.
V. Moral and Mystical Worship, or System of a Future State.
"Indeed, when the vulgar heard speak of a new heaven and another world, they soon gave a body to these fictions; they erected therein a real theatre of action, and their notions of astronomy and geography served to strengthen, if not to originate, this illusion.
"On the one hand, the Phoenician navigators who passed the pillars of Hercules, to fetch the tin of Thule and the amber of the Baltic, related that at the extremity of the world, the end of the ocean (the Mediterranean), where the sun sets for the countries of Asia, were the Fortunate Islands, the abode of eternal spring; and beyond were the hyperborean regions, placed under the earth (relatively to the tropics) where reigned an eternal night.* From these stories, misunderstood, and no doubt confusedly related, the imagination of the people composed the Elysian fields,** regions of delight, placed in a world below, having their heaven, their sun, and their stars; and Tartarus, a place of darkness, humidity, mire, and frost. Now, as man, inquisitive of that which he knows not, and desirous of protracting his existence, had already interrogated himself concerning what was to become of him after his death, as he had early reasoned on the principle of life which animates his body, and which leaves it without deforming it, and as he had imagined airy substances, phantoms, and shades, he fondly believed that he should continue, in the subterranean world, that life which it was too painful for him to lose; and these lower regions seemed commodious for the reception of the beloved objects which he could not willingly resign.
* Nights of six months duration.
** Aliz, in the Phoenician or Hebrew language signifies dancing and joyous.
"On the other hand, the astrological and geological priests told such stories and made such descriptions of their heavens, as accorded perfectly well with these fictions. Having, in their metaphorical language, called the equinoxes and solstices the gates of heaven, the entrance of the seasons, they explained these terrestrial phenomena by saying, that through the gate of horn (first the bull, afterwards the ram) and through the gate of Cancer, descended the vivifying fires which give life to vegetation in the spring, and the aqueous spirits which bring, at the solstice, the inundation of the Nile; that through the gate of ivory (Libra, formerly Sagittarius, or the bowman) and 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 gates of the solstices, seemed to be placed there to serve them as a road or vehicle.* Besides, in their atlas, the celestial scene presented a river (the Nile, designated by the windings of the hydra), a boat, (the ship Argo) and the dog Sirius, both relative to this river, whose inundation they foretold. These circumstances, added to the preceding, and still further explaining them, increased their probability, and to arrive at Tartarus or Elysium, souls were obliged to cross the rivers Styx and Acheron in the boat of the ferryman Charon, and to pass through the gates of horn or ivory, guarded by the dog Cerberus. Finally, these inventions were applied to a civil use, and thence received a further consistency.
*See Macrob. Som. Scrip. c. 12.
"Having remarked that in their burning climate the putrefaction of dead bodies was a cause of pestilential diseases, the Egyptians, in many of their towns, had adopted the practice of burying their dead beyond the limits of the inhabited country, in the desert of the West. To go there, it was necessary to pass the channels of the river, and consequently to be received into a boat, and pay something to the ferryman, without which the body, deprived of sepulture, must have been the prey of wild beasts. This custom suggested to the civil and religious legislators the means of a powerful influence on manners; and, addressing uncultivated and ferocious men with the motives of filial piety and a reverence for the dead, they established, as a necessary condition, their undergoing a previous trial, which should decide whether the deceased merited to be admitted to the rank of the family in the black city. Such an idea accorded too well with all the others, not to be incorporated with them: the people soon adopted it; and hell had its Minos and its Rhadamanthus, with the wand, the bench, the ushers, and the urn, as in the earthly and civil state. It was then that God became a moral and political being, a lawgiver to men, and so much the more to be dreaded, as this supreme legislator, this final judge, was inaccessible and invisible. Then it was that this fabulous and mythological world, composed of such odd materials and disjointed parts, became a place of punishments and of rewards, where divine justice was supposed to correct what was vicious and erroneous in the judgment of men. This spiritual and mystical system acquired the more credit, as it took possession of man by all his natural inclinations. The oppressed found in it the hope of indemnity, and the consolation of future vengeance; the oppressor, expecting by rich offerings to purchase his impunity, formed out of the errors of the vulgar an additional weapon of oppression; the chiefs of nations, the kings and priests, found in this a new instrument of domination by the privilege which they reserved to themselves of distributing the favors and punishments of the great judge, according to the merit or demerit of actions, which they took care to characterize as best suited their system.
"This, then, is the manner in which an invisible and imaginary world has been introduced into the real and visible one; this is the origin of those regions of pleasure and pain, of which you Persians have made your regenerated earth, your city of resurrection, placed under the equator, with this singular attribute, that in it the blessed cast no shade.* Of these materials, Jews and Christians, disciples of the Persians, have you formed your New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse, your paradise, your heaven, copied in all its parts from the astrological heaven of Hermes: and your hell, ye Mussulmans, your bottomless pit, surmounted by a bridge, your balance for weighing souls and good works, your last judgment by the angels Monkir and Nekir, are likewise modeled from the mysterious ceremonies of the cave of Mithras** and your heaven differs not in the least from that of Osiris, of Ormuzd, and of Brama.
* 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.
"The Persians also say, that Oromaze was born or formed out of the purest light; Ahrimanes, on the contrary, out of the thickest darkness: that Oromaze made six gods as good as himself, and Ahrimanes opposed to them six wicked ones: that Oromaze afterwards multiplied himself threefold (Hermes trismegistus) and removed to a distance as remote from the sun as the sun is remote from the earth that he there formed stars, and, among others, Sirius, which he placed in the heavens as a guard and sentinel. He made also twenty-four other Gods, which he inclosed in an egg; but Ahrimanes created an equal number on his part, who broke the egg, and from that moment good and evil were mixed (in the universe). But Ahrimanes is one day to be conquered, and the earth to be made equal and smooth, that all men may live happy.
"Theopompus adds, from the books of the Magi, that one of these Gods reigns in turn every three thousand years during which the other is kept in subjection; that they afterwards contend with equal weapons during a similar portion of time, but that in the end the evil Genius will fall (never to rise again). Then men will become happy, and their bodies cast no shade. The God who mediates all these things reclines at present in repose, waiting till he shall be pleased to execute them." See Isis and Osiris.
There is an apparent allegory through the whole of this passage. The egg is the fixed sphere, the world: the six Gods of Oromaze are the six signs of summer, those of Ahrimanes the six signs of winter. The forty-eight other Gods are the forty-eight constellations of the ancient sphere, divided equally between Ahrimanes and Oronmze. The office of Sirius, as guard and sentinel, tells us that the origin of these ideas was Egyptian: finally, the expression that the earth is to become equal and smooth, and that the bodies of happy beings are to cast no shade, proves that the equator was considered as their true paradise.
** 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. Devoile, vol. iii., 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 precession after Bacchus. Athen. lib. v., ch. 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 epoch a 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."
VI. Sixth System. The Animated World, or Worship of the Universe under diverse Emblems.
"While the nations were wandering in the dark labyrinth of mythology and fables, the physical priests, pursuing their studies and enquiries into the order and disposition of the universe, came to new conclusions, and formed new systems concerning powers and first causes.
"Long confined to simple appearances, they saw nothing in the movement of the stars but an unknown play of luminous bodies rolling round the earth, which they believed the central point of all the spheres; but as soon as they discovered the rotundity of our planet, the consequences of this first fact led them to new considerations; and from induction to induction they rose to the highest conceptions in astronomy and physics.
"Indeed, after having conceived this luminous idea, that the terrestrial globe is a little circle inscribed in the greater circle of the heavens, the theory of concentric circles came naturally into their hypothesis, to determine the unknown circle of the terrestrial globe by certain known portions of the celestial circle; and the measurement of one or more degrees of the meridian gave with precision the whole circumference. Then, taking for a compass the known diameter of the earth, some fortunate genius applied it with a bold hand to the boundless orbits of the heavens; and man, the inhabitant of a grain of sand, embracing the infinite distances of the stars, launches into the immensity of space and the eternity of time: there he is presented with a new order of the universe of which the atom-globe which he inhabited appeared no longer to be the centre; this important post was reserved to the enormous mass of the sun; and that body became the flaming pivot of eight surrounding spheres, whose movements were henceforth subjected to precise calculations.
"It was indeed a great effort for the human mind to have undertaken to determine the disposition and order of the great engines of nature; but not content with this first effort, it still endeavored to develop the mechanism, and discover the origin and the instinctive principle. Hence, engaged in the abstract and metaphysical nature of motion and its first cause, of the inherent or incidental properties of matter, its successive forms and its extension, that is to say, of time and space unbounded, the physical theologians lost themselves in a chaos of subtile reasoning and scholastic controversy.*
* Consult the Ancient Astronomy of M. Bailly, and you will find our assertions respecting the knowledge of the priests amply proved.
"In the first place, the action of the sun on terrestrial bodies, teaching them to regard his substance as a 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 all beings. Afterwards, having discovered, by a physical and attentive analysis, this same fire, or another perfectly resembling it, in the composition of all bodies, and having perceived it to be the essential agent of that spontaneous movement which is called life in animals and vegetation in plants, they conceived the mechanism and harmony of the universe, as of a homogeneous whole, of one identical body, whose parts, though distant, had nevertheless an intimate relation;* and the world was a living being, animated by the organic circulation of an igneous and even electrical fluid,** which, by a term of comparison borrowed first from men and animals, had the sun for a heart and a focus.***
* These are the very words of Jamblicus. De Myst. Egypt.
** 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 the electrial 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?
*** Natural philosophers, says Macrobius, call the sun the heart of the world. Som. Scrip. 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 bye, that the Alchymists, Cabalists, Free-masons, Magnetisers, 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.
"From this time the physical theologians seem to have divided into several classes; one class, grounding itself on these principles resulting from observation; that nothing can be annihilated in the world; that the elements are indestructible; that they change their combinations but not their nature; that the life and death of beings are but the different modifications of the same atoms; that matter itself possesses properties which give rise to all its modes of existence; that the world is eternal,* or unlimited in space and duration; said that the whole universe was God; and, according to them, God was a being, effect and cause, agent and patient, moving principle and thing moved, having for laws the invariable properties that constitute fatality; and this class conveyed their idea by the emblem of Pan (the great whole); or of Jupiter, with a forehead of stars, body of planets, and feet of animals; or of the Orphic Egg,** whose yolk, suspended in the center of a liquid, surrounded by a vault, represented the globe of the sun, swimming in ether in the midst of the vault of heaven;*** sometimes by a great round serpent, representing the heavens where they placed the moving principle, and for that reason of an azure color, studded with spots of gold, (the stars) devouring his tail--that is, folding and unfolding himself eternally, like the revolutions of the spheres; sometimes by that of a man, having his feet joined together and tied, to signify immutable existence, wrapped in a cloak of all colors, like the face of nature, and bearing on his head a sphere of gold,**** emblem of the sphere of the stars; or by that of another man, sometimes seated on the flower of the lotos borne on the abyss of waters, sometimes lying on a pile of twelve cushions, denoting the twelve celestial signs. And here, Indians, Japanese, Siamese, Tibetans, and Chinese, is the theology, which, founded by the Egyptians and transmitted to you, is preserved in the pictures which you compose of Brama, of Beddou, of Somona-Kodom of Omito. This, ye Jews and Christians, is likewise the opinion of which you have preserved a part in your God moving on the face of the waters, by an allusion to the wind*5 which, at the beginning of the world, that is, the departure of the sun from the sign of Cancer, announced the inundation of the Nile, and seemed to prepare the creation.
* See the Pythagorean, Ocellus Lacunus.
** Vide Oedip. Aegypt. Tome II., page 205.
*** 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. Scrip. 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 Oerph 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 Inscrp. vol. 25, in quarto.
**** See Porphyry in Eusebus. Proep. Evang., lib. 3, p. 115.
*5 The Northern or Etesian wind, which commences regularly at the solstice, with the inundation.
VII. Seventh System. Worship of the SOUL of the WORLD, that is to say, the Element of Fire, vital Principle of the Universe.
"But others, disgusted at the idea of a being at once effect and cause, agent and patient, and uniting contrary natures in the same nature, distinguished the moving principle from the thing moved; and premising that matter in itself was inert they pretended that its properties were communicated to it by a distinct agent, of which itself was only the cover or the case. This agent was called by some the igneous principle, known to be the author of all motion; by others it was supposed to be the fluid called ether, which was thought more active and subtile; and, as in animals the vital and moving principle was called a soul, a spirit, and as they reasoned constantly by comparisons, especially those drawn from human beings, they gave to the moving principle of the universe the name of soul, intelligence, spirit; and God was the vital spirit, which extended through all beings and animated the vast body of the world. And this class conveyed their idea sometimes by Youpiter,* essence of motion and animation, principle of existence, or rather existence itself; sometimes by Vulcan or Phtha, elementary principle of fire; or by the altar of Vesta, placed in the center of her temple like the sun in the heavens; sometimes by Kneph, a human figure, dressed in dark blue, having in one hand a sceptre and a girdle (the zodiac), with a cap of feathers to express the fugacity of thought, and producing from his mouth the great egg.
* This is the true pronunciation of the Jupiter of the Latins. . . . Existence itself. This is the signification of the word You.
"Now, as a consequence of this system, every being containing in itself a portion of the igneous and etherial fluid, common and universal mover, and this fluid soul of the world being God, it followed that the souls of all beings were portions of God himself partaking of all his attributes, that is, being a substance indivisible, simple, and immortal; and hence the whole system of 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. Seip. passim.
"There exists a luminous, igneous, subtile fluid, which under the name of ether and spiritus, fills the universe. It is the essential principle and agent of motion and life, it is the Deity. When an earthly body is to be animated, a small round particle of this fluid gravitates through the milky way towards the lunar sphere; where, when it arrives, it unites with a grosser air, and becomes fit to associate with matter: it then enters and entirely fills the body, animates it, suffers, grows, increases, and diminishes with it; lastly, when the body dies, and its gross elements dissolve, this incorruptible particle takes its leave of it, and returns to the grand ocean of ether, if not retained by its union with the lunar air: it is this air or gas, which, retaining the shape of the body, becomes a phantom or ghost, the perfect representation of the deceased. The Greeks called this phantom the image or idol of the soul; the Pythagoreans, its chariot, its frame; and the Rabbinical school, its vessel, or boat. When a man had conducted himself well in this world, his whole soul, that is its chariot and ether, ascended to the moon, where a separation took place: the chariot lived in the lunar Elysium, and the ether returned to the fixed sphere, that is, to God: for the fixed heaven, says Macrobius, was by many called by the name of God (c. 14). If a man had not lived virtuously, the soul remained on earth to undergo purification, and was to wander to and fro, like the ghosts of Homer, to whom this doctrine must have been known, since he wrote after the time of Pherecydes and Pythagoras, who were its promulgators in Greece. Herodotus upon this occasion says, that the whole romance of the soul and its transmigrations was invented by the Egyptians, and propagated in Greece by men, who pretended to be its authors. I know their names, adds he, but shall not mention them (lib. 2). Cicero, however, has positively informed us, that it was Pherecydes, master of Pythagoras. Tuscul. lib. 1, sect. 16. Now admitting that this system was at that period a novelty, it accounts for Solomon's treating it as a fable, who lived 130 years before Pherecydes. "Who knoweth," said he, "the spirit of a man that it goeth upwards? I said in my heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men, befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea they have all one breath, so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: for all is vanity." Eccles. c. iii: v. 18.
And such had been the opinion of Moses, as a translator of Herodotus (M. Archer of the Academy of Inscriptions) justly observes in note 389 of the second book; where he says also that the immortality of the soul was not introduced among the Hebrews till their intercourse with the Assyrians. In other respects, the whole Pythagorean system, properly analysed, appears to be merely a system of physics badly understood.
"Hence, also its transmigrations, known by the name of metempsychosis, that is, the passage of the vital principle from one body to another; an idea which arose from the real transmigration of the material elements. And behold, ye Indians, ye Boudhists, ye Christians, ye Mussulmans! whence are derived all your opinions on the spirituality of the soul; behold what was the source of the dreams of Pythagoras and Plato, your masters, who were themselves but the echoes of another, the last sect of visionary philosophers, which we will proceed to examine.
VIII. Eighth system. The WORLD-MACHINE: Worship of the Demi- Ourgos, or Grand Artificer.
"Hitherto the theologians, employing themselves in examining the fine and subtile substances of ether or the generating fire, had not, however, ceased to treat of beings palpable and perceptible to the senses; and theology continued to be the theory of physical powers, placed sometimes exclusively in the stars, and sometimes disseminated through the universe; but at this period, certain superficial minds, losing the chain of ideas which had directed them in their profound studies, or ignorant of the facts on which they were founded, distorted all the conclusions that flowed from them by the introduction of a strange and novel chimera. They pretended that this universe, these heavens, these stars, this sun, differed in no respect from an ordinary machine; and applying to this first hypothesis a comparison drawn from the works of art, they raised an edifice of the most whimsical sophisms. A machine, said they, does not make itself; it has had an anterior workman; its very existence proves it. The world is a machine; therefore it had 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.
"Here, then, is the Demi-Ourgos or grand artificer, constituted God autocratical and supreme. In vain the ancient philosophy objected to this by saying that the artificer himself must have had parents and progenitors; and that they only added another step to the ladder by taking eternity from the world, and giving it to its supposed author. The innovators, not content with this first paradox, passed on to a second; and, applying to their artificer the theory of the human understanding, they pretended that the Demi-Ourgos had framed his machine on a plan already existing in his understanding. Now, as their masters, the naturalists, had placed in the regions of the fixed stars the great primum mobile, under the name of intelligence and reason, so their mimics, the spiritualists, seizing this idea, applied it to their Demi-Ourgos, and making it a substance distinct and self-existent, they called it mens or logos (reason or word). And, as they likewise admitted the existence of the soul of the world, or solar principle, they found themselves obliged to compose three grades of divine beings, which were: first, the Demi-Ourgos, or working god; secondly, the logos, word or reason; thirdly, the spirit or soul (of the world).* And here, Christians! is the romance on which you have founded your trinity; here is the system which, born a heretic in the temples of Egypt, transported a pagan into the schools of Greece and Italy, is now found to be good, catholic, and orthodox, by the conversion of its partisans, the disciples of Pythagoras and Plato, to Christianity.
* These are the real types of the Christian Trinity.
"It is thus that God, after having been, First, The visible and various action of the meteors and the elements;
"Secondly, The combined powers of the stars, considered in their relations to terrestrial beings;
Thirdly, These terrestrial beings themselves, by confounding the symbols with their archetypes;
Fourthly, The double power of nature in its two principal operations of producing and destroying;
"Fifthly, The animated world, with distinction of agent and patient, of effect and cause;
"Sixthly, The solar principle, or the element of fire considered as the only mover;
"Has thus become, finally, in the last resort, a chimerical and abstract being, a scholastic subtilty, of substance without form, a body without a figure, a very delirium of the mind, beyond the power of reason to comprehend. But vainly does it seek in this last transformation to elude the senses; the seal of its origin is imprinted upon it too deep to be effaced; and its attributes, all borrowed from the physical attributes of the universe, such as immensity, eternity, indivisibility, incomprehensibility; or on the moral affections of man, such as goodness, justice, majesty; its names* even, all derived from the physical beings which were its types, and especially from the sun, from the planets, and from the world, constantly bring to mind, in spite of its corrupters, indelible marks of its real nature.
* 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 and Osiris) its root is thein, which signifies to wander, like planein, that is to say, it is synonymous with planets; because, add 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 Phoenician language, the word thah (with ain) signifies also to wander, and appears to be the derivation of thein. 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 p. 143). 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 lyke, light of the morning, whence comes lux.
Dius, which is to be understood also of the sun, must be derived from dih, a hawk. "The Egyptians," says Porphyry (Euseb. Proecep. Evang. p. 92,) "represent the sun under the emblem of a hawk, because this bird soars to the highest regions of air where light abounds." And in reality we continually see at Cairo large flights of these birds, hovering in the air, from whence they descend not but to stun us with their shrieks, which are like the monosyllable dih: and here, as in the preceding example, we find an analogy between the word dies, day, light, and dius, god, sun.
"Such is the chain of ideas which the human mind had already run through at an epoch previous to the records of history; and since their continuity proves that they were the produce of the same series of studies and labors, we have every reason to place their origin in Egypt, the cradle of their first elements. This progress there may have been rapid; because the physical priests had no other food, in the retirement of the temples, but the enigma of the universe, always present to their minds; and because in the political districts into which that country was for a long time divided, every state had its college of priests, who, being by turns auxiliaries or rivals, hastened by their disputes 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.
Clemens Alexandrinus has transmitted to us (Stromat. lib. 6,) a curious detail of the forty-two volumes which were borne in the procession of Isis. "The priest," says he, "or chanter, carries one of the symbolic instruments of music, and two of the books of Mercury; one containing hymns of the gods, the other the list of kings. Next to him the horoscope (the regulator of time,) carries a palm and a dial, symbols of astrology; he must know by heart the four books of Mercury which treat of astrology: the first on the order of the planets, the second on the risings of the sun and moon, and the two last on the rising and aspect of the stars. Then comes the sacred author, with feathers on his head (like Kneph) and a book in his hand, together with ink, and a reed to write with, (as is still the practice among the Arabs). He must be versed in hieroglyphics, must understand the description of the universe, the course of the sun, moon, stars, and planets, be acquainted with the division of Egypt into thirty-six nomes, with the course of the Nile, with instruments, measures, sacred ornaments, and sacred places. Next comes the stole bearer, who carries the cubit of justice, or measure of the Nile, and a cup for the libations; he bears also in the procession ten volumes on the subject of sacrifices, hymns, prayers, offerings, ceremonies, festivals. Lastly arrives the prophet, bearing in his bosom a pitcher, so as to be exposed to view; he is followed by persons carrying bread (as at the marriage of Cana.) This prophet, as president of the mysteries, learns ten other sacred volumes, which treat of the laws, the gods, and the discipline of the priests. Now there are in all forty-two volumes, thirty-six of which are studied and got by heart by these personages, and the remaining six are set apart to be consulted by the pastophores; they treat of medicine, the construction of the human body (anatomy), diseases, remedies, instruments, etc., etc."
We leave the reader to deduce all the consequences of an Encyclopedia. It is ascribed to Mercury; but Jamblicus tells us that each book, composed by priests, was dedicated to that god, who, on account of his title of genius or decan opening the zodiac, presided over every enterprise. He is the Janus of the Romans, and the Guianesa of the Indians, and it is remarkable that Yanus and Guianes are homonymous. In short it appears that these books are the source of all that has been transmitted to us by the Greeks and Latins in every science, even in alchymy, necromancy, etc. What is most to be regretted in their loss is that part which related to the principles of medicine and diet, in which the Egyptians appear to have made a considerable progress, and to have delivered many useful observations.
"There happened early on the borders of the Nile, what has since been repeated in every country; as soon as a new system was formed its novelty excited quarrels and schisms; then, gaining credit by persecution itself, sometimes it effaced antecedent ideas, sometimes it modified and incorporated them; then, by the intervention of political revolutions, the aggregation of states and the mixture of nations confused all opinions; and the filiation of ideas being lost, theology fell into a chaos, and became a mere logogriph of old traditions no longer understood. Religion, having strayed from its object was now nothing more than a political engine to conduct the credulous vulgar; and it was used for this purpose, sometimes by men credulous themselves and dupes of their own visions, and sometimes by bold and energetic spirits in pursuit of great objects of ambition.
IX. Religion of Moses, or Worship of the Soul of the World (You- piter).
"Such was the legislator of the Hebrews; who, wishing to separate his nation from all others, and to form a distinct and solitary empire, conceived the design of establishing its basis on religious prejudices, and of raising around it a sacred rampart of opinions and of rites. But in vain did he prescribe the worship of the symbols which prevailed in lower Egypt and in Phoenicia;* for his god was nevertheless an Egyptian god, invented by those priests of whom Moses had been the disciple; and Yahouh,** betrayed by its very name, essence (of beings), and by its symbol, the burning bush, is only the soul of the world, the moving principle which the Greeks soon after adopted under the same denomination in their you- piter, regenerating being, and under that of Ei, existence,*** which the Thebans consecrated by the name of Kneph, which Sais worshipped under the emblem of Isis veiled, with this inscription: I am al that has been, all that is, and all that is to come, and no mortal has raised my veil; which Pythagoras honored under the name of Vesta, and which the stoic philosophy defined precisely by calling it the principle of fire. In vain did Moses wish to blot from his religion every thing which had relation to the stars; many traits call them to mind in spite of all he has done. The seven planetary luminaries of the great candlestick; the twelve stones, or signs in the Urim of the high priests; the feast of the two equinoxes, (entrances and gates of the two hemispheres); the ceremony of the lamb, (the celestial ram then in his fifteenth degree); lastly, the name even of Osiris preserved in his song,**** and the ark, or coffer, an imitation of the tomb in which that God was laid, all remain as so many witnesses of the filiation of his ideas, and of their extraction from the common source.
* "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.
** 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 Phoenicians, were acquainted neither with the J nor the P 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 Yahouh are manifestly the same word: the identity continues in that of You-piter; but in order to render it more complete, we shall demonstrate the signification to be the same.
In Hebrew, that is to say, in one of the dialects of the common language of lower Asia, Yahouh is the participle of the verb hih, to exist, to be, and signifies existing: in other words, the principle of life, the mover or even motion (the universal soul of beings). Now what is Jupiter? Let us hear the Greeks and Latins explain their theology. "The Egyptians," says Diodorus, after Manatho, priest of Memphis, "in giving names to the five elements, called spirit, or ether, You-piter, on account of the true meaning of that word: for spirit is the source of life, author of the vital principle in animals; and for this reason they considered him as the father, the generator of beings." For the same reason Homer says, father, and king of men and gods. (Diod. lib. 1, sect 1).
"Theologians," says Macrobius, "consider You-piter as the soul of the world." Hence the words of Virgil: " Muses let us begin with You-piter; the world is full of You-piter." (Somn. Scrip., ch. 17). And in the Saturnalia, he says, "Jupiter is the sun himself." It was this also which made Virgil say, "The spirit nourishes the life (of beings), and the soul diffused through the vast members (of the universe), agitates the whole mass, and forms but one immense body."
"Ioupiter," says the ancient verses of the Orphic sect, which originated in Egypt; verses collected by Onomacritus in the days of Pisistratus, "Ioupiter, represented with the thunder in his hand, is the beginning, origin, end, and middle of all things: a single and universal power, he governs every thing; heaven, earth, fire, water, the elements, day, and night. These are what constitute his immense body: his eyes are the sun and moon: he is space and eternity: in fine," adds Porphyry. "Jupiter is the world, the universe, that which constitutes the essence and life of all beings. Now," continues the same author, "as philosophers differed in opinion respecting the nature and constituent parts of this god, and as they could invent no figure that should represent all his attributes, they painted him in the form of a man. He is in a sitting posture, in allusion to his immutable essence; the upper part of his body is uncovered, because it is in the upper regions of the universe (the stars) that he most conspicuously displays himself. He is covered from the waist downwards, because respecting terrestrial things he is more secret and concealed. He holds a scepter in his left hand, because on the left side is the heart, and the heart is the seat of the understanding, which, (in human beings) regulates every action." Euseb. Proeper. Evang., p 100.
The following passage of the geographer and philosopher, Strabo, removes every doubt as to the identity of the ideas of Moses and those of the heathen theologians.
"Moses, who was one of the Egyptian priests, taught his followers that it was an egregious error to represent the Deity under the form of animals, as the Egyptians did, or in the shape of man, as was the practice of the Greeks and Africans. That alone is the Deity, said he, which constitutes heaven, earth, and every living thing; that which we call the world, the sum of all things, nature; and no reasonable person will think of representing such a being by the image of any one of the objects around us. It is for this reason, that, rejecting every species of images or idols, Moses wished the Deity to be worshipped without emblems, and according to his proper nature; and he accordingly ordered a temple worthy of him to be erected, etc. Geograph. lib. 16, p. 1104, edition of 1707.
The theology of Moses has, then, differed in no respect from that of his followers, that is to say, from that of the Stoics and Epicureans, who consider the Deity as the soul of the world. This philosophy appears to have taken birth, or to have been disseminated when Abraham came into Egypt (200 years before Moses), since he quitted his system of idols for that of the god Yahouh; so that we may place its promulgation about the seventeenth or eighteenth century before Christ; which corresponds with what we have said before.
As to the history of Moses, Diodorus properly represents it when he says, lib. 34 and 40, "That the Jews were driven out of Egypt at a time of dearth, when the country was full of foreigners, and that Moses, a man of extraordinary prudence seized this opportunity of establishing his religion in the mountains of Judea." It will seem paradoxical to assert, that the 600,000 armed men whom he conducted thither ought to be reduced to 6,000; but I can confirm the assertion by so many proofs drawn from the books themselves, that it will be necessary to correct an error which appears to have arisen from the mistake of the transcribers.
*** This was the monosyllable written on the gates of the temple of Delphos. Plutarch has made it the subject of a dissertation.
**** These are the literal expressions of the book of Deuteronomy, chap. XXXII. "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.
X. Religion of Zoroaster.
"Such also was Zoroaster; 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 and Typhon, under the names Ormuzd and Ahrimanes; who called the reign of summer, virtue and good; the reign of winter, sin and evil; the renewal of nature in spring, creation of the world; the conjunction of the spheres at secular periods, resurrection; and the Tartarus and Elysium of the astrologers and geographers were named future life, hell and paradise. In a word, he did nothing but consecrate the existing dreams of the mystical system.
XI. Budsoism, or Religion of the Samaneans.
"Such again are the propagators of the dismal doctrine of the Samaneans; who, on the basis of the Metempsychosis, have erected the misanthropic system of self-denial, and of privations; who, laying it down as a principle that the body is only a prison where the soul lives in an impure confinement, that life is only a dream, an illusion, and the world only a passage to another country, to a life without end, placed virtue and perfection in absolute immobility, in the destruction of all sentiment, in the abnegation of physical organs, in the annihilation of all our being; whence resulted fasts, penances, macerations, solitude, contemplations, and all the practices of the deplorable delirium of the Anchorites.
XII. Brahmism, or Indian System.
"And such, too, were the founders of the Indian System; who, refining after Zoroaster on the two principles of creation and destruction, introduced an intermediary principle, that of preservation, and on their trinity in unity, of Brama, Chiven, and Vichenou, accumulated the allegories of their ancient traditions, and the alembicated subtilities of their metaphysics.
"These are the materials which existed in a scattered state for many centuries in Asia; when a fortuitous concourse of events and circumstances, on the borders of the Euphrates and the Mediterranean, served to form them into new combinations.
XIII. Christianity, or the Allegorical Worship of the Sun, under the cabalistical names of Chrish-en, or Christ, and Ye-sus or Jesus.
"In constituting a separate nation, Moses strove in vain to defend it against the invasion of foreign ideas. An invisible inclination, founded on the affinity of their origin, had constantly brought back the Hebrews towards the worship of the neighboring nations; and the commercial and political relations which necessarily existed between them, strengthened this propensity from day to day. As long as the constitution of the state remained entire, the coercive force of the government and the laws opposed these innovations, and retarded their progress; nevertheless the high places were full of idols; and the god Sun had his chariot and horses painted in the palaces of the kings, and even in the temples of Yahouh; but when the conquests of the sultans of Nineveh and Babylon had dissolved the bands of civil power, the people, left to themselves and solicited by their conquerors, restrained no longer their inclination for profane opinions, and they were publicly established in Judea. First, the Assyrian colonies, which came and occupied the lands of the tribes, filled the kingdom of Samaria with dogmas of the Magi, which very soon penetrated into the kingdom of Judea. Afterwards, Jerusalem being subjugated, the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Arabs, entering this defenceless country, introduced their opinions; and the religion of Moses was doubly mutilated. Besides the priests and great men, being transported to Babylon and educated in the sciences of the Chaldeans, imbibed, during a residence of seventy years, the whole of their theology; and from that moment the dogmas of the hostile Genius (Satan), the archangel Michael,* the ancient of days (Ormuzd), the rebel angels, the battles in heaven, the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection, all unknown to Moses, or rejected by his total silence respecting them, were introduced and naturalized among the Jews.
* "The names of the angels and of the months, such as Gabriel, Michael, Yar, Nisan, etc., came from Babylon with the Jews:" says expressly the Talmud of Jerusalem. See Beousob. 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, seraphims, etc., like a true Christian.
"The emigrants returned to their country with these ideas; and their innovation at first excited disputes between their partisans the Pharisees, and their opponents the Saducees, who maintained the ancient national worship; but the former, aided by the propensities of the people and their habits already contracted, and supported by the Persians, their deliverers and masters, gained the ascendant over the latter; and the Sons of Moses consecrated the 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. Megasthenes, an historian of repute in the days of Seleucus Nicanor, and who wrote particularly upon India, speaking of the philosophy of the ancients respecting natural things, puts the Brachmans and the Jews precisely on the same footing.
"A fortuitous analogy between two leading ideas was highly favorable to this coalition, and became the basis of a last system, not less surprising in the fortune it has had in the world, than in the causes of its formation.
"After the Assyrians had destroyed the kingdom of Samaria, some judicious men foresaw the same destiny for Jerusalem, which they did not fail to predict and publish; and their predictions had the particular turn of being terminated by prayers for a re- establishment and regeneration, uttered in the form of prophecies. The Hierophants, in their enthusiasm, had painted a king as a deliverer, who was to re-establish the nation in its ancient glory; the Hebrews were to become once more a powerful, a conquering nation, and Jerusalem the capital of an empire extended over the whole earth.
"Events having realized the first part of these predictions, the ruin of Jerusalem, the people adhered to the second with a firmness of belief in proportion to their misfortunes; and the afflicted Jews expected, with the impatience of want and desire, this victorious king and deliverer, who was to come and save the nation of Moses, and restore the empire of David.
"On the other hand, the sacred and mythological traditions of preceding times had spread through all Asia a dogma perfectly analogous. The cry there was a great mediator, a final judge, a future saviour, a king, god, conqueror and legislator, who was to restore the golden age upon earth,* to deliver it from the dominion of evil, and restore men to the empire of good, peace, and happiness. The people seized and cherished these ideas with so much the more avidity, as they found in them a consolation under that deplorable state of suffering into which they had been plunged by the devastations of successive conquests, and the barbarous despotism of their governments. This conformity between the oracles of different nations, and those of the prophets, excited the attention of the Jews; and doubtless the prophets had the art to compose their descriptions after the style and genius of the sacred books employed in the Pagan mysteries. There was therefore a general expectation in Judea of a great ambassador, a final Saviour; when a singular circumstance determined the epoch of his coming.
* 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.
"It is found in the sacred books of the Persians and Chaldeans, that the world, composed of a total revolution of twelve thousand, was divided into two partial revolutions; one of which, the age and reign of good, terminated in six thousand; the other, the age and reign of evil, was to terminate in six thousand more.
"By these records, the first authors had understood the annual revolution of the great celestial orb called the world, (a revolution composed of twelve months or signs, divided each into a thousand parts), and the two systematic periods, of winter and summer, composed each of six thousand. These expressions, wholly equivocal and badly explained, having received an absolute and moral, instead of a physical and astrological sense, it happened that the annual world was taken for the secular world, the thousand of the zodiacal divisions, for a thousand of years; and supposing, from the state of things, that they lived in the age of evil, they inferred that it would end with the six thousand pretended years.*
* We have already seen 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 favored 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 Egyptian decans.
"Now, according to calculations admitted by the Jews, they began to reckon near six thousand years since the supposed creation of the world.* This coincidence caused a fermentation in the public mind. Nothing was thought of but the approaching end. They consulted the hierophants and the mystical books, which differed as to the term; the great mediator, the final judge, was expected and desired, to put an end to so many calamities. This being was so much spoken of, that some person finally was said to have seen him; and a first rumor of this sort was sufficient to establish a general certainty. Popular report became an established fact: the imaginary being was realized; and all the circumstances of mythological tradition, being assembled around this phantom, produced a regular history, of which it was no longer permitted to doubt.
* 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.
"These mythological traditions recounted that, in the beginning, a woman and a man had by their fall introduced sin and misery into the world. (Consult plate of the Astrological Heaven of the Ancients.)
"By this was denoted the astronomical fact, that the celestial virgin and the herdsman (Bootes), by setting heliacally at the autumnal equinox, delivered the world to the wintry constellations, and seemed, on falling below the horizon, to introduce into the world the genius of evil, Ahrimanes, represented by the constellation of the Serpent.*
* "The Persians," says Chardin, "call the constellation of the serpent Ophiucus, serpent of Eve: and this serpent Ophiucas or Ophioneus plays a similar part in the theology of the Phoenicians," 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 ephah (with ain) signifies in Hebrew, serpent.
These traditions related that the woman had decoyed and seduced the man.*
* In a physical sense to seduce, seducere, means only to attract, to draw after us.
"And in fact, the virgin, setting first, seems to draw the herdsman after her.
"That the woman tempted him by offering him fruit fair to the sight and good to eat, which gave the knowledge of good and evil.
"And in fact, the Virgin holds in her hand a branch of fruit, which she seems to offer to the Herdsman; and the branch, emblem of autumn, placed in the picture of Mithra* between winter and summer, seems to open the door and give knowledge, the key of good and evil.
* See this picture in Hyde, page 111, edition of 1760.
That this couple had been driven from the celestial garden, and that a cherub with a flaming sword had been placed at the gate to guard it.
"And in fact, when the virgin and the herdsman fall beneath the horizon, Perseus rises on the other side;* and this Genius, with a sword in his hand, seems to drive them from the summer heaven, the garden and dominion of fruits and flowers.
* Rather the head of Medusa; that head of a woman once so beautiful, which Perseus cut off and which beholds 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 Orphiucus and the Polar Dragon, who then occupy the zenith. This shows 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 groups 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-sequitor).
That of this virgin should be born, spring up, an offspring, a child, who should bruise the head of the serpent, and deliver the world from sin.
"This denotes the son, which, at the moment of the winter solstice, precisely when the Persian Magi drew the horoscope of the new year, was placed on the bosom of the Virgin, rising heliacally in the eastern horizon; on this account he was figured in their astrological pictures under the form of a child suckled by a chaste virgin,* and became afterwards, at the vernal equinox, the ram, or the lamb, triumphant over the constellation of the Serpent, which disappeared from the skies.
* Such was the picture of the Persian sphere, cited by Aben Ezra in the Coelam 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."
In the library of the king of France is a manuscript in Arabic, marked 1165, in which is a picture of the twelve signs; and that of the Virgin represents a young woman with an infant by her side: the whole scene indeed of the birth of Jesus is to be found in the adjacent part of the heavens. The stable is the constellation of the charioteer and the goat, formerly Capricorn: a constellation called proesepe Jovis Heniochi, stable of Iou; and the word Iou is found in the name Iou-seph (Joseph). At no great distance is the ass of Typhon (the great she-bear), and the ox or bull, the ancient attendants of the manger. Peter the porter, is Janus with his keys and bald forehead: the twelve apostles are the genii of the twelve months, etc. This Virgin has acted very different parts in the various systems of mythology: she has been the Isis of the Egyptians, who said of her in one of their inscriptions cited by Julian, the fruit I have brought forth is the sun. The majority of traits drawn by Plutarch apply to her, in the same manner as those of Osiris apply to Bootes: also the seven principal stars of the she-bear, called David's chariot, were called the chariot of Osiris (See Kirker); and the crown that is situated behind, formed of ivy, was called Chen-Osiris, the tree of Osiris. The Virgin has likewise been Ceres, whose mysteries were the same with those of Isis and Mithra; she has been the Diana of the Ephesians; the great goddess of Syria, Cybele, drawn by lions; Minerva, the mother of Bacchus; Astraea, a chaste virgin taken up into heaven at the end of a golden age; Themis at whose feet is the balance that was put in her hands; the Sybil of Virgil, who descends into hell, or sinks below the hemisphere with a branch in her hand, etc.
That, in his infancy, this restorer of divine and celestial nature would live abased, humble, obscure and indigent.
"And this, because the winter sun is abased below the horizon; and that this first period of his four ages or seasons, is a time of obscurity, scarcity, fasting, and want.
"That, being put to death by the wicked, he had risen gloriously; that he had reascended from hell to heaven, where he would reign forever
"This is a sketch of the life of the sun; who, finishing his career at the winter solstice, when Typhon and the rebel angels gain the dominion, seems to be put to death by them; but who soon after is born again, and rises* into the vault of heaven, where he reigns.
* 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.
"Finally, these traditions went so far as to mention even his astrological and mythological names, and inform us that he was called sometimes Chris, that is to say, preserver,* and from that, ye Indians, you have made your god Chrish-en or Chrish-na; and, ye Greek and Western Christians, your Chris-tos, son of Mary, is the same; sometimes he is called Yes, by the union of three letters, which by their numerical value form the number 608, one of the solar periods.** And this, Europeans, is the name which, with the Latin termination, is become your Yes-us or Jesus, the ancient and cabalistic name attributed to young Bacchus, the clandestine son (nocturnal) of the Virgin Minerva, who, in the history of his whole life, and even of his death, brings to mind the history of the god of the Christians, that is, of the star of day, of which they are each of them the emblems."
* The Greeks used to express by X, or Spanish iota, the aspirated ha of the Orientals, who said haris. In Hebrew heres signifies the sun, but in Arabic the meaning of the radical word is, to guard, to preserve, and of haris, 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, Nous 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 oenima or spiritus mundi, was the Holy Ghost; and it is for this reason that Manes, Pasilides, 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 Germaico) 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.
** See a curious ode to the sun, by Martianus Capella, translated by Gebelin.
Here a great murmur having arisen among all the Christian groups, the Lamas, the Mussulmans and the Indians called them to order, and the orator went on to finish his discourse:
"You know at present," said he, "how the rest of this system was composed in the chaos and anarchy of the three first centuries; what a multitude of singular opinions divided the minds of men, and armed them with an enthusiasm and a reciprocal obstinacy; because, being equally founded on ancient tradition, they were equally sacred. You know how the government, after three centuries, having embraced one of these sects, made it the orthodox, that is to say, the pre-dominant religion, to the exclusion of the rest; which, being less in number, became heretics; you know how and by what means of violence and seduction this religion was propagated, extended, divided, and enfeebled; how, six hundred years after the Christian innovation, another system was formed from it and from that of the Jews; and how Mahomet found the means of composing a political and theological empire at the expense of those of Moses and the vicars of Jesus.
"Now, if you take a review of the whole history of the spirit of all religion, you will see that in its origin it has had no other author than the sensations and wants of man; that the idea of God has had no other type and model than those of physical powers, material beings, producing either good or evil, by impressions of pleasure or pain on sensitive beings; that in the formation of all these systems the spirit of religion has always followed the same course, and been uniform in its proceedings; that in all of them the dogma has never failed to represent, under the name of gods, the operations of nature, and passions and prejudices of men; that the moral of them all has had for its object the desire of happiness and the aversion to pain; but that the people, and the greater part of legislators, not knowing the route to be pursued, have formed false, and therefore discordant, ideas of virtue and vice of good and evil, that is to say, of what renders man happy or miserable; that in every instance, the means and the causes of propagating and establishing systems have exhibited the same scenes of passion and the same events; everywhere disputes about words, pretexts for zeal, revolutions and wars excited by the ambition of princes, the knavery of apostles, the credulity of proselytes, the ignorance of the vulgar, the exclusive cupidity and intolerant arrogance of all. Indeed, you will see that the whole history of the spirit of religion is only the history of the errors of the human mind, which, placed in a world that it does not comprehend, endeavors nevertheless to solve the enigma; and which, beholding with astonishment this mysterious and visible prodigy, imagines causes, supposes reasons, builds systems; then, finding one defective, destroys it for another not less so; hates the error that it abandons, misconceives the one that it embraces, rejects the truth that it is seeking, composes chimeras of discordant beings; and thus, while always dreaming of wisdom and happiness, wanders blindly in a labyrinth of illusion and doubt."
Thus spoke the orator in the name of those men who had studied the origin and succession of religious ideas.
The theologians of various systems, reasoning on this discourse: "It is an impious representation," said some, whose tendency is nothing less than to overturn all belief, to destroy subordination in the minds of men, and annihilate our ministry and power." "It is a romance," said others, "a tissue of conjectures, composed with art, but without foundation." The moderate and prudent men added: "Supposing all this to be true, why reveal these mysteries? Doubtless our opinions are full of errors; but these errors are a necessary restraint on the multitude. The world has gone thus for two thousand years; why change it now?"
A murmur of disapprobation, which never fails to rise at every innovation, now began to increase; when a numerous group of the common classes of people, and of untaught men of all countries and of every nation, without prophets, without doctors, and without doctrine, advancing in the circle, drew the attention of the whole assembly; and one of them, in the name of all, thus addressed the multitude:
"Mediators and arbiters of nations! the strange relations which have occupied the present debate were unknown to us until this day. Our understanding, confounded and amazed at so many statements, some of them learned, others absurd and all incomprehensible, remains in uncertainty and doubt. One only reflection has struck us: on reviewing so many prodigious facts, so many contradictory assertions, we ask ourselves: What are all these discussions to us? What need have we of knowing what passed five or six thousand years ago, in countries we never heard of, and among men who will ever be unknown to us? True or false, what interest have we in knowing whether the world has existed six thousand, or twenty-five thousand years? Whether it was made of nothing, or of something; by itself, or by a maker, who in his turn would require another maker? What! we are not sure of what happens near us, and shall we answer for what happens in the sun, in the moon, or in imaginary regions of space? We have forgotten our own infancy, and shall we know the infancy of the world? And who will attest what no one has seen? who will certify what no man comprehends?
"Besides, what addition or diminution will it make to our existence, to answer yes or no to all these chimeras? Hitherto neither our fathers nor ourselves have had the least knowledge or notion of them, and we do not perceive that we have had on this account either more or less of the sun, more or less of subsistence, more or less of good or of evil.
"If the knowledge of these things is so necessary, why have we lived as well without it as those who have taken so much trouble concerning it? If this knowledge is superfluous, why should we burden ourselves with it to-day?"
Then addressing himself to the doctors and theologians:
"What!" said he, "is it necessary that we, poor and ignorant men, whose every moment is scarcely sufficient for the cares of life, and the labors of which you take the profit,--is it necessary for us to learn the numberless histories that you have recounted, to read the quantity of books that you have cited, and to study the various languages in which they are composed! A thousand years of life would not suffice--"
"It is not necessary," replied the doctors, "that you should acquire all this science; we have it for you--"
"But even you," replied the simple men, "with all your science, you are not agreed; of what advantage, then, is your science? Besides, how can you answer for us? If the faith of one man is applicable to many, what need have even you to believe? your fathers may have believed for you; and this would be reasonable, since they have seen for you.
"Farther, what is believing, if believing influences no action? And what action is influenced by believing, for instance, that the world is or is not eternal?"
"The latter would be offensive to God," said the doctors.
"How prove you that?" replied the simple men.
"In our books," answered the doctors.
"We do not understand them," returned the simple men.
"We understand them for you," said the doctors.
"That is the difficulty," replied the simple men. "By what right do you constitute yourselves mediators between God and us?"
"By his orders," said the doctors.
"Where is the proof of these orders?" said the simple men.
"In our books," said the doctors.
"We understand them not," said the simple men; "and how came this just God to give you this privilege over us? Why did this common father oblige us to believe on a less degree of evidence than you? He has spoken to you; be it so; he is infallible, and deceives you not. But it is you who speak to us! And who shall assure us that you are not in error yourselves, or that you will not lead us into error? And if we should be deceived, how will that just God save us contrary to law, or condemn us on a law which we have not known?"
"He has given you the natural law," said the doctors.
"And what is the natural law?" replied the simple men. "If that law is sufficient, why has he given any other? If it is not sufficient, why did he make it imperfect?"
"His judgments are mysteries," said the doctors, "and his justice is not like that of men."
"If his justice," replied the simple men, "is not like ours, by what rule are we to judge of it? And, moreover, why all these laws, and what is the object proposed by them?"
"To render you more happy," replied a doctor, "by rendering you better and more virtuous. It is to teach man to enjoy his benefits, and not injure his fellows, that God has manifested himself by so many oracles and prodigies."
"In that case," said the simple men, "there is no necessity for so many studies, nor of such a variety of arguments; only tell us which is the religion that best answers the end which they all propose."
Immediately, on this, every group, extolling its own morality above that of all others, there arose among the different sects a new and most violent dispute.
"It is we," said the Mussulmans, "who possess the most excellent morals, who teach all the virtues useful to men and agreeable to God. We profess justice, disinterestedness, resignation to providence, charity to our brethren, alms-giving, and devotion; we torment not the soul with superstitious fears; we live without alarm, and die without remorse."
"How dare you speak of morals," answered the Christian priests, "you, whose chief lived in licentiousness and preached impurity? You, whose first precept is homicide and war? For this we appeal to experience: for these twelve hundred years your fanatical zeal has not ceased to spread commotion and carnage among the nations. If Asia, so flourishing in former times, is now languishing in barbarity and depopulation, it is in your doctrine that we find the cause; in that doctrine, the enemy of all instruction, which sanctifies ignorance, which consecrates the most absolute despotism in the governors, imposes the most blind and passive obedience in the people, that has stupefied the faculties of man, and brutalized the nations.
"It is not so with our sublime and celestial morals; it was they which raised the world from its primitive barbarity, from the senseless and cruel superstitions of idolatry, from human sacrifices,* from the shameful orgies of pagan mysteries; they it was that purified manners, proscribed incest and adultery, polished savage nations, banished slavery, and introduced new and unknown virtues, charity for men, their equality in the sight of God, forgiveness and forgetfulness of injuries, the restraint of all the passions, the contempt of worldly greatness, a life completely spiritual and completely holy!"
* Read the cold declaration of Eusebius (Proep. Evang. lib. I, p. 11,), who pretends that, since the coming of Christ, there have been neither wars, nor tyrants, nor cannibals, nor sodomites, nor persons committing incest, nor savages destroying their parents, etc. When we read these fathers of the church we are astonished at their insincerity or infatuation.
"We admire," said the Mussulmans, "the ease with which you reconcile that evangelical meekness, of which you are so ostentatious, with the injuries and outrages with which you are constantly galling your neighbors. When you criminate so severely the great man whom we revere, we might fairly retort on the conduct of him whom you adore; but we scorn such advantages, and confining ourselves to the real object in question, we maintain that the morals of your gospel have by no means that perfection which you ascribe to them; it is not true that they have introduced into the world new and unknown virtues: for example, the equality of men in the sight of God,--that fraternity and that benevolence which follow from it, were formal doctrines of the sect of the Hermatics or Samaneans,* from whom you descend. As to the forgiveness of injuries, the Pagans themselves had taught it; but in the extent that you give it, far from being a virtue, it becomes an immorality, a vice. Your so much boasted precept of turning one cheek after the other, is not only contrary to every sentiment of man, but is opposed to all ideas of justice. It emboldens the wicked by impunity, debases the virtuous by servility, delivers up the world to despotism and tyranny, and dissolves all society. Such is the true spirit of your doctrines. Your gospels in their precepts and their parables, never represent God but as a despot without any rules of equity; a partial father treating a debauched and prodigal son with more favor than his respectful and virtuous children; a capricious master, who gives the same wages to workmen who had wrought but one hour, as to those who had labored through the whole day; one who prefers the last comers to the first. The moral is everywhere misanthropic and antisocial; it disgusts men with life and with society; and tends only to encourage hermitism and celibacy.
* The equality of mankind in a state of nature and in the eyes of God was one of the principal tenets of the Samaneans, and they appear to be the only ancients that entertained this opinion.
"As to the manner in which you have practised these morals, we appeal in our turn to the testimony of facts. We ask whether it is this evangelical meekness which has excited your interminable wars between your sects, your atrocious persecutions of pretended heretics, your crusades against Arianism, Manicheism, Protestantism, without speaking of your crusades against us, and of those sacrilegious associations, still subsisting, of men who take an oath to continue them?* We ask you whether it be gospel charity which has made you exterminate whole nations in America, to annihilate the empires of Mexico and Peru; which makes you continue to dispeople Africa and sell its inhabitants like cattle, notwithstanding your abolition of slavery; which makes you ravage India and usurp its dominions; and whether it be the same charity which, for three centuries past, has led you to harrass the habitations of the people of three continents, of whom the most prudent, the Chinese and Japanese, were constrained to drive you off, that they might escape your chains and recover their internal peace?"
* The oath taken by the knights of the Order of Malta, is to kill, or make the Mahometans prisoners, for the glory of God.
Here the Bramins, the Rabbins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, the Priests of the Molucca islands, and the coasts of Guinea, loading the Christian doctors with reproaches: "Yes!" cried they, "these men are robbers and hypocrites, who preach simplicity, to surprise confidence; humility, to enslave with more ease; poverty, to appropriate all riches to themselves. They promise another world, the better to usurp the present; and while they speak to you of tolerance and charity, they burn, in the name of God, the men who do not worship him in their manner."
"Lying priests," retorted the missionaries, "it is you who abuse the credulity of ignorant nations to subjugate them. It is you who have made of your ministry an art of cheating and imposture; you have converted religion into a traffic of cupidity and avarice. You pretend to hold communications with spirits, and they give for oracles nothing but your wills. You feign to read the stars, and destiny decrees only your desires. You cause idols to speak, and the gods are but the instruments of your passions. You have invented sacrifices and libations, to collect for your own profit the milk of flocks, and the flesh and fat of victims; and under the cloak of piety you devour the offerings of the gods, who cannot eat, and the substance of the people who are forced to labor."
"And you," replied the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, "you sell to the credulous living, your vain prayers for the souls of the dead. With your indulgences and your absolutions you have usurped the power of God himself; and making a traffic of his favors and pardons, you have put heaven at auction; and by your system of expiations you have formed a tariff of crimes, which has perverted all consciences."*
* As long as it shall be possible to obtain purification from crimes and exemption from punishment by means of money or other frivolous practices; as long as kings and great men shall suppose that building temples or instituting foundations, will absolve them from the guilt of oppression and homicide; as long as individuals shall imagine that they may rob and cheat, provided they observe fast during Lent, go to confession, and receive extreme unction, it is impossible there should exist in society any morality or virtue; and it is from a deep conviction of truth, that a modern philosopher has called the doctrine of expiations la verola des societes.
"Add to this," said the Imans, "that these men have invented the most insidious of all systems of wickedness,--the absurd and impious obligation of recounting to them the most intimate secrets of actions and of thoughts (confessions); so their insolent curiosity has carried their inquisition even into the sanctuary of the marriage bed,* and the inviolable recesses of the heart."
* Confession is a very ancient invention of the priests, who did not fail to avail themselves of that means of governing. It was practised in the Egyptian, Greek, Phrygian, Persian mysteries, etc. Plutarch has transmitted us the remarkable answer of a Spartan whom a priest wanted to confess. "Is it to you or to God I am to confess?" "To God," answered the priest: "In that case," replied the Spartan, "man, begone!" (Remarkable Savings of the Lacedemonians.) The first Christians confessed their faults publicly, like the Essenians. Afterwards, priests began to be established, with power of absolution from the sin of idolatry. In the time of Theodosius, a woman having publicly confessed an intrigue with a deacon, bishop Necterius, and his successor Chrysostom, granted communion without confession. It was not until the seventh century that the abbots of convents exacted from monks and nuns confession twice a year; and it was at a still later period that bishops of Rome generalized it.
The Mussulmen, who suppose women to have no souls, are shocked at the idea of confession; and say; How can an honest man think of listening to the recital of the actions or the secret thoughts of a woman? May we not also ask, on the other hand, how can an honest woman consent to reveal them?
Thus by mutual reproaches the doctors of the different sects began to reveal all the crimes of their ministry--all the vices of their craft; and it was found that among all nations the spirit of the priesthood, their system of conduct, their actions their morals, were absolutely the same:
That they had everywhere formed secret associations and corporations at enmity with the rest of society:*
* That we may understand the general feelings of priests respecting the rest of mankind, whom they always call by the name of the people, let us hear one of the doctors of the church. "The people," says Bishop Synnesius, in Calvit. page 315, "are desirous of being deceived, we cannot act otherwise respecting them. The case was similar with the ancient priests of Egypt, and for this reason they shut themselves up in their temples, and there composed their mysteries, out of the reach of the eye of the people." And forgetting what he has before just said, he adds: "for had the people been in the secret they might have been offended at the deception played upon them. In the mean time how is it possible to conduct one's self otherwise with the people so long as they are people? For my own part, to myself I shall always be a philosopher, but in dealing with the mass of mankind, I shall be a priest."
"A little jargon," says Geogory Nazianzen to St. Jerome (Hieron. ad. Nep.) "is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire. Our forefathers and doctors of the church have often said, not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity dictated to them."
"We endeavor," says Sanchoniaton, "to excite admiration by means of the marvellous." (Proep. Evang. lib. 3.)
Such was the conduct of all the priests of antiquity, and is still that of the Bramins and Lamas who are the exact counterpart of the Egyptian priests. Such was the practice of the Jesuits, who marched with hasty strides in the same career. It is useless to point out the whole depravity of such a doctrine. In general every association which has mystery for its basis, or an oath of secrecy, is a league of robbers against society, a league divided in its very bosom into knaves and dupes, or in other words agents and instruments. It is thus we ought to judge of those modern clubs, which, under the name of Illuminatists, Martinists, Cagliostronists, and Mesmerites, infest Europe. These societies are the follies and deceptions of the ancient Cabalists, Magicians, Orphies, etc., "who," says Plutarch, "led into errors of considerable magnitude, not only individuals, but kings and nations."
That they had everywhere attributed to themselves prerogatives and immunities, by means of which they lived exempt from the burdens of other classes:
That they everywhere avoided the toils of the laborer, the dangers of the soldier, and the disappointments of the merchant:
That they lived everywhere in celibacy, to shun even the cares of a family:
That, under the cloak of poverty, they found everywhere the secret of procuring wealth and all sorts of enjoyments:
That under the name of mendicity they raised taxes to a greater amount than princes:
That in the form of gifts and offerings they had established fixed and certain revenues exempt from charges:
That under pretence of retirement and devotion they lived in idleness and licentiousness:
That they had made a virtue of alms-giving, to live quietly on the labors of others:
That they had invented the ceremonies of worship, as a means of attracting the reverence of the people, while they were playing the parts of gods, of whom they styled themselves the interpreters and mediators, to assume all their powers; that, with this design, they had (according to the degree of ignorance or information of their people) assumed by turns the character of astrologers, drawers of horoscopes, fortune-tellers, magicians,* necromancers, quacks, physicians, courtiers, confessors of princes, always aiming at the great object to govern for their own advantage:
* What is a magician, in the sense in which people understand the word? A man who by words and gestures pretends to act on supernatural beings, and compel them to descend at his call and obey his orders. Such was the conduct of the ancient priests, and such is still that of all priests in idolatrous nations; for which reason we have given them the denomination of Magicians.
And when a Christian priest pretends to make God descend from heaven, to fix him to a morsel of leaven, and render, by means of this talisman, souls pure and in a state of grace, what is this but a trick of magic? And where is the difference between a Chaman of Tartary who invokes the Genii, or an Indian Bramin, who makes Vichenou descend in a vessel of water to drive away evil spirits? Yes, the identity of the spirit of priests in every age and country is fully established! Every where it is the assumption of an exclusive privilege, the pretended faculty of moving at will the powers of nature; and this assumption is so direct a violation of the right of equality, that whenever the people shall regain their importance, they will forever abolish this sacrilegious kind of nobility, which has been the type and parent stock of the other species of nobility.
That sometimes they had exalted the power of kings and consecrated their persons, to monopolize their favors, or participate their sway:
That sometimes they had preached up the murder of tyrants (reserving it to themselves to define tyranny), to avenge themselves of their contempt or their disobedience:
And that they always stigmatised with impiety whatever crossed their interests; that they hindered all public instruction, to exercise the monopoly of science; that finally, at all times and in all places, they had found the secret of living in peace in the midst of the anarchy they created, in safety under the despotism that they favored, in idleness amidst the industry they preached, and in abundance while surrounded with scarcity; and all this by carrying on the singular trade of selling words and gestures to credulous people, who purchase them as commodities of the greatest value.*
* A curious work would be the comparative history of the agnuses of the pope and the pastils of the grand Lama. It would be worth while to extend this idea to religions ceremonies in general, and to confront column by column, the analogous or contrasting points of faith and superstitious practices in all nations. There is one more species of superstition which it would be equally salutary to cure, blind veneration for the great; and for this purpose it would be alone sufficient to write a minute detail of the private life of kings and princes. No work could be so philosophical as this; and accordingly we have seen what a general outcry was excited among kings and the panders of kings, when the Anecdotes of the Court of Berlin first appeared. What would be the alarm were the public put in possession of the sequel of this work? Were the people fairly acquainted with all the absurdities of this species of idol, they would no longer be exposed to covet their specious pleasures of which the plausible and hollow appearance disturbs their peace, and hinders them from enjoying the much more solid happiness of their own condition.
Then the different nations, in a transport of fury, were going to tear in pieces the men who had thus abused them; but the legislator, arresting this movement of violence, addressed the chiefs and doctors:
"What!" said he, "instructors of nations, is it thus that you have deceived them?"
And the terrified priests replied.
"O legislator! we are men. The people are so superstitious! they have themselves encouraged these errors."*
* Consider in this view the Brabanters.
And the kings said:
"O legislator! the people are so servile and so ignorant! they prostrated themselves before the yoke, which we scarcely dared to show them."*
* The inhabitants of Vienna, for example, who harnessed themselves like cattle and drew the chariot of Leopold.
Then the legislator, turning to the people--"People!" said he, "remember what you have just heard; they are two indelible truths. Yes, you yourselves cause the evils of which you complain; yourselves encourage the tyrants, by a base adulation of their power, by an imprudent admiration of their false beneficence, by servility in obedience, by licentiousness in liberty, and by a credulous reception of every imposition. On whom shall you wreak vengeance for the faults committed by your own ignorance and cupidity?"
And the people, struck with confusion, remained in mournful silence.
The legislator then resumed his discourse: "O nations!" said he, "we have heard the discussion of your opinions. The different sentiments which divide you have given rise to many reflections, and furnished several questions which we shall propose to you to solve.
"First, considering the diversity and opposition of the creeds to which you are attached, we ask on what motives you found your persuasion? Is it from a deliberate choice that you follow the standard of one prophet rather than another? Before adopting this doctrine, rather than that, did you first compare? did you carefully examine them? Or have you received them only from the chance of birth, from the empire of education and habit? Are you not born Christians on the borders of the Tiber, Mussulmans on those of the Euphrates, Idolaters on the Indus, just as you are born fair in cold climates, and sable under the scorching sun of Africa? And if your opinions are the effect of your fortuitous position on the earth, of consanguinity, of imitation, how is it that such a hazard should be a ground of conviction, an argument of truth?
"Secondly, when we reflect on the mutual proscriptions and arbitrary intolerance of your pretensions, we are frightened at the consequences that flow from your own principles. Nations! who reciprocally devote each other to the bolts of heavenly wrath, suppose that the universal Being, whom you revere, should this moment descend from heaven on this multitude; and, clothed with all his power, should sit on this throne to judge you; suppose that he should say to you: Mortals! it is your own justice that I am going to exercise upon you. Yes, of all the religious systems that divide you, one alone shall this day be preferred; all the others, all this multitude of standards, of nations, of prophets, shall be condemned to eternal destruction. This is not enough: among the particular sects of the chosen system, one only can be favored; all the others must be condemned: neither is this enough;--from this little remnant of a group I must exclude all those who have not fulfilled the conditions enjoined by its precepts. O men! to what a small number of elect have you limited your race! to what a penury of beneficence do you reduce the immensity of my goodness! to what a solitude of beholders do you condemn my greatness and my glory!
"But," said the legislator rising, no matter you have willed it so. Nations! here is an urn in which all your names are placed: one only is a prize: approach, and draw this tremendous lottery!" And the nations, seized with terror cried: "No, no; we are all brothers, all equal; we cannot condemn each other."
"Then," said the legislator, resuming his seat: "O men! who dispute on so many subjects, lend an attentive ear to one problem which you exhibit, and which you ought to decide yourselves."
And the people, giving great attention, he lifted an arm towards heaven, and, pointing to the sun, said:
"Nations, does that sun, which enlightens you, appear square or triangular?"
"No," answered they with one voice, "it is round."
Then, taking the golden balance that was on the altar:
"This gold," said the legislator, "that you handle every day, is it heavier than the same volume of copper?"
"Yes,' answered all the people, "gold is heavier than Copper."
Then, taking the sword:
"Is this iron," said the legislator, "softer than lead?"
"No," said the people.
"Is sugar sweet, and gall bitter?"
"Do you love pleasure and hate pain?"
"Thus, then, you are agreed in these points, and many others of the same nature.
"Now, tell us, is there a cavern in the centre of the earth, or inhabitants in the moon?"
This question caused a universal murmur. Every one answered differently--some yes, others no; one said it was probable, another said it was an idle and ridiculous question; some, that it was worth knowing. And the discord was universal.
After some time the legislator, having obtained silence, said:
"Explain to us, O Nations! this problem: we have put to you several questions which you have answered with one voice, without distinction of race or of sect: white men, black men, followers of Mahomet and of Moses, worshippers of Boudha and of Jesus, all have returned the same answer. We then proposed another question, and you have all disagreed! Why this unanimity in one case, and this discordance in the other?"
And the group of simple men and savages answered and said: "The reason of this is plain. In the first case we see and feel the objects, and we speak from sensation; in the second, they are beyond the reach of our senses--we speak of them only from conjecture."
"You have resolved the problem," said the legislator; "and your own consent has established this first truth:
"That whenever objects can be examined and judged of by your senses, you are agreed in opinion; and that you only differ when the objects are absent and beyond your reach.
"From this first truth flows another equally clear and worthy of notice. Since you agree on things which you know with certainty, it follows that you disagree only on those which you know not with certainty, and about which you are not sure; that is to say, you dispute, you quarrel, you fight, for that which is uncertain, that of which you doubt. O men! is this wisdom?
"Is it not, then, demonstrated that truth is not the object of your contests? that it is not her cause which you defend, but that of your affections, and your prejudices? that it is not the object, as it really is in itself, that you would verify, but the object as you would have it; that is to say, it is not the evidence of the thing that you would enforce, but your own personal opinion, your particular manner of seeing and judging? It is a power that you wish to exercise, an interest that you wish to satisfy, a prerogative that you arrogate to yourself; it is a contest of vanity. Now, as each of you, on comparing himself to every other, finds himself his equal and his fellow, he resists by a feeling of the same right. And your disputes, your combats, your intolerance, are the effect of this right which you deny each other, and of the intimate conviction of your equality.
"Now, the only means of establishing harmony is to return to nature, and to take for a guide and regulator the order of things which she has founded; and then your accord will prove this other truth:
"That real beings have in themselves an identical, constant and uniform mode of existence; and that there is in your organs a like mode of being affected by them.
"But at the same time, by reason of the mobility of these organs as subject to your will, you may conceive different affections, and find yourselves in different relations with the same objects; so that you are to them like a mirror, capable of reflecting them truly as they are, or of distorting and disfiguring them.
"Hence it follows, that whenever you perceive objects as they are, you agree among yourselves, and with the objects; and this similitude between your sensations and their manner of existence, is what constitutes their truth with respect to you; and, on the contrary, whenever you differ in opinion, your disagreement is a proof that you do not represent them such as they are,--that you change them.
"Hence, also, it follows, that the causes of your disagreement exist not in the objects themselves, but in your minds, in your manner of perceiving or judging.
"To establish, therefore, a uniformity of opinion, it is necessary first to establish the certainty, completely verified, that the portraits which the mind forms are perfectly like the originals; that it reflects the objects correctly as they exist. Now, this result cannot be obtained but in those cases where the objects can be brought to the test, and submitted to the examination of the senses. Everything which cannot be brought to this trial is, for that reason alone, impossible to be determined; there exists no rule, no term of comparison, no means of certainty, respecting it.
"From this we conclude, that, to live in harmony and peace, we must agree never to decide on such subjects, and to attach to them no importance; in a word, we must trace a line of distinction between those that are capable of verification, and those that are not; and separate by an inviolable barrier the world of fantastical beings from the world of realities; that is to say, all civil effect must be taken away from theological and religious opinions.
"This, O ye people of the earth! is the object proposed by a great nation freed from her fetters and her prejudices; this is the work which, under her eye and by her orders, we had undertaken, when your kings and your priests came to interrupt it. O kings and priests! you may suspend, yet for a while, the solemn publication of the laws of nature; but it is no longer in your power to annihilate or to subvert them."
A general shout then arose from every part of the assembly; and the nations universally, and with one voice, testified their assent to the proposals of the delegates: "Resume," said they, "your holy and sublime labors, and bring them to perfection. Investigate the laws which nature, for our guidance, has implanted in our breasts, and collect from them an authentic and immutable code; nor let this code be any longer for one family only, but for us all without exception. Be the legislators of the whole human race, as you are the interpreters of nature herself. Show us the line of partition between the world of chimeras and that of realities; and teach us, after so many religions of error and delusion, the religion of evidence and truth!
Then the delegates, having resumed their enquiries into the physical and constituent attributes of man, and examined the motives and affections which govern him in his individual and social state, unfolded in these words the laws on which nature herself has founded his happiness.