Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism
by Thomas Inman, M.D. (1874)
Pagan and Christian symbolism
Figures 137, 138, are copied from an ancient Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, printed at Venice, 1524, with a license from the Inquisition; the book being lent to me by my friend, Mr. Newton. The first represents the same part as the Assyrian "grove." It may appropriately be called the Holy Yoni. The book in question contains numerous figures, all resembling closely the Mesopotamian emblem of Ishtar. The presence of the woman therein identifies the two as symbolic of Isis, or la nature; and a man bowing down in adoration thereof shows the same idea as is depicted in Assyrian sculptures, where males offer to the goddess symbols of themselves. Compare Figs. 68, 64, 65, 66, pp. 48 seq.
If I had been able to search through the once celebrated Alexandrian library, it is doubtful whether I could have found any pictorial representation more illustrative of the relationship of certain symbolic forms to each other than is Figure 138. A circle of angelic heads, forming a sort of sun, having luminous rays outside, and a dove, the emblem of Venus, dart a spear (la pique) down upon the earth (la terre), or the virgin. This being received, fertility follows.
In Grecian story, Ouranos and Ge, or heaven and earth, were the parents of creation; and Jupiter came from heaven to impregnate Alcmena. The same mythos prevailed throughout all civilised nations. Christianity adopted the idea, merely altering the names of the respective parents, and attributed the regeneration of the world to "holy breath" and Mary. Every individual, indeed, extraordinarily conspicuous for wisdom, power, goodness, etc., is said to have been begotten on a woman by a celestial father. Within the vesica piscis, artists usually represent the virgin herself, with or without the child; in the figure before us the child takes her place. It is difficult to believe that the ecclesiastics who sanctioned the publication of such a print could have been as ignorant as modern ritualists. It is equally difficult to believe that the latter, if they knew the real meaning of the symbols commonly used by the Roman church, would adopt them.
The last two figures, symbolic of adoration before divine sexual emblems, afford me the opportunity to give a description of a similar worship existent in Hindostan at the present time. My authority is H. H. Wilson, in Essays on the Religion of the Hindoos, Trenner and Co., London. "The worshippers," he remarks, vol. i., p. 240, "of the Sakti, the power or energy of the divine nature in action, are exceedingly numerous amongst all classes of Hindoos—about three-fourths are of this sect, while only a fifth are Vaishnavas and a sixteenth Saivas. This active energy is personified, and the form with which it is invested depends upon the bias of the individuals. The most favourite form is that of Parvati, Bhavani, or Durga, the wife of Siva, or Mahadeva."
"The worship of the female principle, as distinct from the divinity, appears to have originated in the literal interpretation of the metaphorical language of the Vedas, in which the will or purpose to create the universe is represented as originating from the creator, and consistent with him as his bride." "The Samaveda for example, says, the creator felt not delight being alone; he wished another, and caused his own self to fall in twain, and thus became husband and wife. He approached her, and thus were human beings produced." A sentiment or statement which we may notice in passing is very similar to that propounded in Genesis, ch. i. 27, and v. 1, 2, respecting Elohim—viz., that he created man and woman in his own image, i.e., as male and female, bisexual but united—an androgyne.
"This female principle goes by innumerable cognomens, inasmuch as every goddess, every nymph, and all women are identified with it. She—the principle personified—is the mother of all, as Mahadeva, the male principle, is the father of all."
"The homage rendered to the Sakti may be done before an image of any goddess—Prakriti, Lakshmi, Bhavani, Durga, Maya, Parvati, or Devi—just in the same way as Romanists may pray to a local Mary, or any other. But in accordance with the weakness of human nature, there are many who consider it right to pay their devotions to the thing itself rather than to an abstraction. In this form of worship six elements are required, flesh, fish, wine, women, gesticulations and mantras which consist of various unmeaning monosyllabic combinations of letters of great imaginary efficacy."
"The ceremonies are mostly gone through in a mixed society, the Sakti being personified by a naked female, to whom meat and wine are offered and then distributed amongst the company. These eat and drink alternately with gesticulations and mantras—and when the religious part of the business is over, the males and females rush together and indulge in a wild orgy. This ceremony is entitled the Sri Chakra or Purnabhisheka, the Ring or Full Initiation."
In a note apparently by the editor, Dr. Rost, a full account is given in Sanscrit of the Sakti Sodhana, as they are prescribed in the Devi Rahasya, a section of the Rudra Y mala, so as to prove to his readers that the Sri Chakra is performed under a religious prescription.
We learn that the woman should be an actress, dancing girl, a courtesan, washerwoman, barber's wife, flower-girl, milk-maid, or a female devotee. The ceremony is to take place at midnight with eight, nine, or eleven couples. At first there are sundry mantras said, then the female is disrobed, but richly ornamented, and is placed on the left of a circle (Chakra) described for the purpose, and after sundry gesticulations, mantras, and formulas she is purified by being sprinkled over with wine. If a novice, the girl has the radical mantra whispered thrice in her ear. Feasting then follows, lest Venus should languish in the absence of Ceres and Bacchus, and now, when the veins are full of rich blood, the actors are urged to do what desire dictates, but never to be so carried away by their zeal as to neglect the holy mantras appropriate to every act and to every stage thereof.§
§ The above quotations from Wilson's work are selections from his and his Editor's account. In the original the observations extend over eighteen pages, and are too long to be given in their entirety: the parts omitted are of no consequence.
It is natural that such a religion should be popular, especially amongst the young of both sexes.