Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism
by Thomas Inman, M.D. (1874)
It may, we think, be taken for granted, that nothing is, or has ever been, adopted into the service of Religion, without a definite purpose. If it be supposed that a religion is built upon the foundation of a distinct revelation from the Almighty, as the Hebrew is said to be, there is a full belief that every emblem, rite, ceremony, dress, symbol, etc., has a special signification. Many earnest Christians, indeed, see in Judaic ordinances a reference to Jesus of Nazareth. I have, for example, heard a pious man assert that "leprosy" was only another word for "sin"; but he was greatly staggered in this belief when I pointed out to him that if a person's whole body was affected he was no longer unclean (Lev. xiii. 13), which seemed on the proposed hypothesis to demonstrate that when a sinner was as black as hell he was the equal of a saint. According to such an interpreter, the paschal lamb is a type of Jesus, and consequently all whom his blood sprinkles are blocks of wood, lintels, and side-posts (Exod. xii. 22, 28). By the same style of metaphorical reasoning, Jesus was typified by the "scape-goat," and the proof is clear, for one was driven away into the wilderness, and the other voluntarily went there—one to be destroyed, the other to be tempted by the devil! Hence we infer that there is nothing repugnant to the minds of the pious in an examination respecting the use of symbols, and into that which is shadowed forth by them. What has been done for Judaism may be attempted for other forms of religion.
As the Hebrews and Christians believe their religion to be God-given, so other nations, having a different theology, regard their own peculiar tenets. Though we may, with that unreasoning prejudice and blind bigotry which are common to the Briton and the Spaniard, and pre-eminently so to the mass of Irish and Scotchmen amongst ourselves, and to the Carlists in the peninsula, disbelieve a heathen pretension to a divine revelation, we cannot doubt that the symbols, etc., of Paganism have a meaning, and that it is as lawful to scrutinise the mysteries which they enfold as it is to speculate upon the Urim and Thummim of the Jews. Yet, even this freedom has, by some, been denied; for there are a few amongst us who adhere rigidly to the precept addressed to the followers of Moses, viz., "Take heed that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods?" (Deut. xii. 30§.) The intention of the prohibition thus enunciated is well marked in the following words, 1 which indicate that the writer believed that the adoption of heathen gods would follow inquiry respecting them. It is not now-a-days feared that we may become Mahometans if we read the Koran, or Buddhists if we study the Dhammapada; but there are priests who fear that an inquiry into ecclesiastical matters may make their followers Papists, Protestants, Wesleyans, Baptists, Unitarians, or some other religion which the Presbytery object to. The dislike of inquiry ever attends those who profess a religion which is believed or known to be weak.
§ "even so will I do likewise."
The philosopher of the present day, being freed from the shackles once riveted around him by a dominant hierarchy, may regard the precept in Deuteronomy in another light. Seeing that the same symbolism is common to many forms of religion, professed in countries widely apart both as regards time and space, he thinks that the danger of inquiry into faiths is not the adoption of foreign, but the relinquishment of present methods of religious belief. When we see the same ideas promulgated as divine truth, on the ancient banks of the Ganges, and the modern shores of the Mediterranean, we are constrained to admit that they have something common in their source. They may be the result of celestial revelation, or they may all alike emanate from human ingenuity. As men invent new forms of religion now, there is a presumption that others may have done so formerly. As all men are essentially human, so we may believe that their inventions will be characterised by the virtues and the failings of humanity. Again, experience tells us that similarity in thought involves similarity in action. Two sportsmen, seeing a hare run off from between them, will fire at it so simultaneously that each is unaware that the other shot. So a resemblance in religious belief will eventuate in the selection of analogous symbolism.
We search into emblems with an intention different from that with which we inquire into ordinary language. The last tells us of the relationship of nations upon Earth, the first of the probable connections of mankind with Heaven. The devout Christian believes that all who venerate the Cross may hope for a happy eternity, without ever dreaming that the sign of his faith is as ancient as Homeric Troy, and was used by the Phoenicians probably before the Jews had any existence as a people; whilst an equally pious Mahometan regards the Crescent as the passport to the realms of bliss, without a thought that the symbol was in use long before the Prophet of Allah was born, and amongst those nations which it was the Prophet's mission to convert or to destroy. Letters and words mark the ordinary current of man's thought, whilst religious symbols show the nature of his aspirations. But all have this in common, viz., that they may be misunderstood. Many a Brahmin has uttered prayers in a language to him unintelligible; and many a Christian uses words in his devotions of which he never seeks to know the meaning. "Om manee pani" "Om manee padme houm," "Amen" and "Ave Maria purissima" may fairly be placed in the same category. In like manner, the signification of an emblem may be unknown. The antiquary finds in Lycian coins, and in Aztec ruins, figures for which he can frame no meaning; whilst the ordinary church-goer also sees, in his place of worship, designs of which none can give him a rational explanation. Again, we find that a language may find professed interpreters, whose system of exposition is wholly wrong; and the same may be said of symbols. I have seen, for example, three distinctly different interpretations given to one Assyrian inscription, and have heard as many opposite explanations of a particular figure, all of which have been incorrect.
In the interpretation of unknown languages and symbols, the observer gladly allows that much may be wrong; but this does not prevent him believing that some may be right. In giving his judgment, he will examine as closely as he can into the system adopted by each inquirer, the amount of materials at his disposal, and, generally, the acumen which has been brought to the task. Perhaps, in an investigation such as we describe, the most important ingredient is care in collation and comparison. But a scholar can only collate satisfactorily when he has sufficient means, and these demand much time and research. The labour requires more time than ordinary working folk can command, and more patience than those who have leisure are generally disposed to give. Unquestionably, we have as yet had few attempts in England to classify and explain ancient and modern symbols. It is perhaps not strictly true that there has been so much a laxity in the research, of which we here speak, as a dread of making public the results of inquiry. Investigators, as a rule, have a respect for their own prejudices, and dislike to make known to others a knowledge which has brought pain to their own minds. Like the Brahmin of the story, they will destroy a fine microscope rather than permit their co-religionists to know that they drink living creatures in their water, or eat mites in their fruit. The motto of such people is, "If truth is disagreeable, cling to error."
The following attempts to explain much of ancient and modern symbolism can only be regarded as tentative. The various devices contained herein seem to me to support the views which I have been led to form from other sources, by a careful inquiry into the signification of ancient names, and the examination of ancient faiths. The figures were originally intended as corroborative of evidence drawn from numerous ancient and modern writings; and the idea of collecting them, and, as it were, making them speak for themselves, has been an after-thought. In the following pages I have simply reprinted the figures, etc., which appear in Ancient Faiths embodied in Ancient Names (second edition). I make no attempt to exhaust the subject. There are hundreds of emblems which find herein no place; and there are explanations of symbols current to which I make no reference, for they are simply exoteric.
For the benefit of many of my readers, I must explain the meaning of the last word italicised. In most, if not in all, forms of religion, there are tenets not generally imparted to the vulgar, and only given to a select few under the seal of secrecy. A similar reticence exists in common life. There are secrets kept from children, for example, that are commonly known to all parents; there are arcana, familiar to doctors, of which patients have no idea. For example, when a lad innocently asks the family surgeon, or his parent, where the last new baby came from, he is put off with a reply, wide of the mark, yet sufficient for him. When I put such a question to the maids in the kitchen, to which place for a time I was relegated, the first answer was that the baby came from the parsley bed. On hearing this, I went into the garden, and, finding the bed had been unmoved, came back and reproached my informant for falsehood. Another then took up the word, and said it was the carrot bed which the baby came from. As a roar of laughter followed this remark, I felt that I was being cheated, and asked no more questions. Then I could not, now I can, understand the esoteric sense of the sayings. They had to the servants two distinct significations. The only one which I could then comprehend was exoteric; that which was known to my elders was the esoteric meaning. In what is called "religion" there has been a similar distinction. We see this, not only in the "mysteries" of Greece and Rome, but amongst the Jews; Esdras stating the following as a command from God, "Some things shalt thou publish, and some things shalt thou show secretly to the wise" (2 Esdras xv. 26).
When there exist two distinct explanations, or statements, about the signification of an emblem, the one "esoteric," true, and known only to the few, the other "exoteric," incorrect, and known to the many, it is clear that a time may come when the first may be lost, and the last alone remain. As an illustration, we can point to the original and correct pronunciation of the word [—Hebrew—], commonly pronounced Jehovah. Known only to a select few, it became lost when these died without imparting it; yet what is considered to be the incorrect method of pronouncing the word survives until to-day.§
§ It is supposed by some that Jahveh is the proper pronunciation of this word, but as the first letter may represent, ja, ya, or e, and the third u, v, or o, whilst the second and fourth are the soft h, one may read the word Jhuh, analogous to the Ju in Jupiter; Jehu, the name of a king of Israel; Tahu as it is read on Assyrian inscriptions; Jeho, as in Jehoshaphat; Ehoh, analogous to the Evoe or Ewe associated with Bacchus; and Jaho, analogous to the J. A. O. of the Gnostics. The Greek "Fathers" give the word as if equivalent to yave, yaoh, yeho, and too.
But the question is not how the word may be pronounced, but how it was expressed in sound when used in religion by the Hebrew and other Semitic nations, amongst whom it was a sacred secret, or ineffable name, not lightly to be "taken in vain."———
We may fairly assume that, when two such meanings exist, they are not identical, and that the one most commonly received is not the correct one. But when one alone is known to exist, it becomes a question whether another should be sought. If, it may be asked, the common people are contented with a fable, believing it true, why seek to enlighten them upon its hidden meaning? To show the bearing of this subject, let us notice what has always struck me as remarkable. The second commandment declares to the Jews, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them," etc. (Exod. xx. 4). Yet we find, in Numbers xxi., that Jehovah ordered Moses to frame a brazen serpent, whose power was so miraculous that those who only looked at it were cured of the evils inflicted by thanatoid snakes.
Then again, in the temple of the God who is reported to have thus spoken, and who is also said to have declared that He would dwell in the house that Solomon made for Him, an ark, or box, was worshipped, and over it Cherubim were seen. These were likenesses of something, and the first was worshipped. We find it described as being so sacred that death once followed a profane touching of it (2 Sam. vi. 6, 7), and no fewer than 50,070 people were done to death at Bethshemesh because somebody had ventured to look inside the box, and had tried to search into the mystery contained therein (1 Sam. vi. 19). It is curious that the Philistines, who must have touched the box to put their strange offerings beside it (see 1 Sam. vi. 8), were not particularly bothered. They were "profane"; and priests only invent stories, which are applicable to the arcana which they use in worship, to blind the eyes of and give a holy horror to the people whom they govern. How David worshipped the ark as being the representative of God we see in 2 Sam. vi. 14, 16, 17, 21.
The ark of the covenant was indeed regarded by the Jews much as a saint's toe-nail, a crucifix, an image of the Virgin, a bit of wood, or a rusty old nail is by the Roman Catholics. So flagrant an apparent breach of the second commandment was covered for the common Hebrews by the assertion that the mysterious box was a token of God's covenant with His people; but that this statement was "exoteric," we feel sure, when we find a similar ark existing and used in "the mysteries" of Egypt and Greece, amongst people who probably never heard of Jews, and could by no chance know what passed in the Hebrew temple.
When become dissatisfied with a statement, which is evidently intended to be a blind, some individuals naturally endeavour to ascertain what is behind the curtain. In this they resemble the brave boy, who rushes upon a sheet and turnip lantern, which has imposed upon his companions and passed for a ghost. What is a bugbear to the many is often a contemptible reptile to the few. Yet there are a great number who would rather run from a phantom night after night than grapple with it once, and would dissuade others from being bold enough to encounter it. Nevertheless, even the former rejoice when the cheat is exposed.
As when, by some courageous hand, that which has been mistaken by hundreds for a spectre has been demonstrated to be a crafty man, no one would endeavour to demonstrate the reality of ghosts by referring to the many scores of men of all ranks who had been duped by the apparition thus detected; so, in like manner, when the falsehood of an exoteric story is exhibited, it is no argument in its favour that the vulgar in thousands and many a wise man have believed it. Speaking metaphorically, we have many such ghosts amongst ourselves; phantoms, which pass for powerful giants, but are in reality perfect shams. Such we may describe by comparing them to the apocryphal vampires. It is to me a melancholy thing to contemplate the manner in which mankind have, in every age and nation, made for themselves bugbears, and then have felt fear at them. We deride the African, who manufactures a Fetish, and then trembles at its power, but the learned know perfectly well that men made the devil, whom the pious fear, just as a negro dreads Mumbo Jumbo.
In the fictitious narratives which passed for truth in the dark ages of Christianity, there were accounts of individuals who died and were buried, and who, after a brief repose in the tomb, rose again. Some imagined that the resuscitated being was the identical one who had been interred. Others believed that some evil spirit had appropriated the body, and restored to it apparent vitality. Whatever the fiction was, the statement remained unchallenged, that some dead folk returned to earth, having the same guise as when they quitted it. We believe that a similar occurrence has taken place in religion. Heathendom died, and was buried; yet, after a brief interval, it rose again from its tomb. But, unlike the vampire, its garb was changed, and it was not recognised. It moved through Christendom in a seductive dress. If it were a devil, yet its clothing was that of a sheep; if a wolf, it wore broadcloth. If it ravened, the victims were not pitied. Heathenism, by which I mean the manners, morals and rites prevalent in pagan times or countries, like a resuscitated vampire, once bore rule throughout Christendom, in which term is included all those parts where Christian baptism is used by all the people, or the vast majority. In most parts it still reigns supreme.
When vampires were discovered by the acumen of any observer, they were, we are told, ignominiously killed, by a stake being driven through the body; but experience showed them to have such tenacity of life that they rose again, and again, notwithstanding renewed impalement, and were not ultimately laid to rest till wholly burnt. In like manner, the regenerated Heathendom, which dominates over the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, has risen again and again, after being transfixed. Still cherished by the many, it is denounced by the few. Amongst other accusers, I raise my voice against the Paganism which exists so extensively in ecclesiastical Christianity, and will do my utmost to expose the imposture.
In a vampire story, told in Thalaba, by Southey, the resuscitated being takes the form of a dearly beloved maiden, and the hero is obliged to kill her with his own hand. He does so; but, whilst he strikes the form of the loved one, he feels sure that he slays only a demon. In like manner, when I endeavour to destroy the current Heathenism, which has assumed the garb of Christianity, I do not attack real religion. Few would accuse a workman of malignancy who cleanses from filth the surface of a noble statue. There may be some who are too nice to touch a nasty subject; yet even they will rejoice when some one else removes the dirt. Such a scavenger is much wanted.
If I were to assert, as a general proposition, that religion does not require any symbolism, I should probably win assent from every true Scotch Presbyterian, every Wesleyan, and every Independent. Yet I should be opposed by every Papist, and by most Anglican Churchmen. But why? Is it not because their ecclesiastics have adopted symbolism into their churches and into their ritual? They have broken the second commandment of Jehovah, and refuse to see anything wrong in their practice or gross in their imagery. But they adopt Jehovah rather than Elohim, and break the commandments, said to be given upon Sinai, in good company.
The reader of the following pages will probably feel more interest therein if he has some clue whereby he may guide himself through their labyrinth.
From the earliest known times there seems to have been in every civilised nation the idea of an unseen power. In the speculations of thoughtful minds a necessity is recognised for the existence of a Being who made all things—who is at times beneficent, sending rain and warmth, and who at others sends storm, plague, famine, and war. After the crude idea has taken possession of the thoughts, there has been a desire to know something more of this Creator, and an examination into the works of Nature has been made with the view to ascertain the will and designs of the Supreme. In every country this great One has been supposed to inhabit the heaven above us, and consequently all celestial phenomena have been noticed carefully. But the mind soon got weary of contemplating about an essence, and, contenting itself with the belief that there was a Power, began to investigate the nature of His ministers. These, amongst the Aryans, were the sun, fire, storm, wind, the sky, the day, night, etc. An intoxicating drink, too, was regarded as an emanation from the Supreme. With this form of belief men lived as they had done ere it existed, and in their relations with each other may be compared to such high class animals as elephants. Men can live peaceably together without religion, just as do the bisons, buffaloes, antelopes, and even wolves. The assumption that some form of faith is absolutely a necessity for man is only founded on the fancies of some religious fanatics who know little of the world.
§ Whilst these sheets were passing through the press, there appeared a work, published anonymously, but reported to be by one of the most esteemed theologians who ever sat upon an episcopal bench. It is entitled Supernatural Religion. London: Longmans, 1874. From it we quote the following, vol. ii., p. 489:— "We gain infinitely more than we lose in abandoning belief in the reality of Divine Revelation. Whilst we retain pure and unimpaired the treasure of Christian Morality, we relinquish nothing but the debasing elements added to it by human superstition. We are no longer bound to believe a theology which outrages reason and moral sense. We are freed from base anthropomorphic views of God and His government of the universe; and from Jewish Mythology we rise to higher conceptions of an infinitely wise and beneficent Being, hidden from our finite minds, it is true, in the impenetrable glory of Divinity, but whose Laws of wondrous comprehensiveness and perfection we ever perceive in operation around us. We are no longer disturbed by visions of fitful interference with the order of Nature, but we recognise that the Being who regulates the universe is without variableness or shadow of turning. It is singular how little there is in the supposed Revelation of alleged information, however incredible, regarding that which is beyond the limits of human thought, but that little is of a character which reason declares to be the wildest delusion. Let no man whose belief in the reality of a Divine Revelation may be destroyed by such an inquiry complain that he has lost a precious possession, and that nothing is left but a blank. The Revelation not being a reality, that which he has lost was but an illusion, and that which is left is the Truth. If he be content with illusions, he will speedily be consoled; if he be a lover only of truth, instead of a blank, he will recognise that the reality before him is full of great peace. "If we know less than we have supposed of man's destiny, we may at least rejoice that we are no longer compelled to believe that which is unworthy. The limits of thought once attained, we may well be unmoved in the assurance that all that we do know of the regulation of the universe being so perfect and wise, all that we do not know must be equally so. Here enters the true and noble Faith—which is the child of reason. If we have believed a system, the details of which must at one time or another have shocked the mind of every intelligent man, and believed it simply because it was supp
osed to be revealed, we may equally believe in the wisdom and goodness of what is not revealed. The mere act of communication to us is nothing: Faith in the perfect ordering of all things is independent of Revelation. "The argument so often employed by Theologians that Divine Revelation is necessary for man, and that certain views contained in that Revelation are required by our moral consciousness, is purely imaginary, and derived from the Revelation which it seeks to maintain. The only thing absolutely necessary for man is Truth and to that, and that alone, must our moral consciousness adapt itself."
But as there is variety in the workings of the human mind, so there were differences in the way wherein the religious idea was carried out. Some regarded the sun and moon, the constellations and the planets, as ministers of the unseen One, and, reasoning from what was known to what was unknown, argued thus: "Throughout nature there seems to be a dualism. In the sky there are a sun and moon; there are also sun and earth, earth and sea. In every set of animals there are males and females." An inquiry into the influence of the sun brought out the facts that by themselves its beams were destructive; they were only beneficent when the earth was moist with rain. As the rain from heaven, then, caused things on earth to grow, it was natural that the main source of light and heat should be regarded as a male, and the earth as a female. As a male, the sun was supposed to have the emblems of virility, and a spouse whom he impregnated, and who thereby became fertile.
In examining ancient Jewish, Phoenician, and other Shemitic cognomens, I found that they consisted of a divine name and some attribute of the deity, and that the last was generally referable equally to the Supreme, to the Sun, as a god, and to the masculine emblem. If the deity was a female, the name of her votary contained a reference to the moon and the beauties or functions of women. The higher ideas of the Creator were held only by a few, the many adopted a lower and more debased view. In this manner the sun became a chief god and the moon his partner, and the former being supposed to be male and the latter female, both became associated with the ideas which all have of terrestrial animals. Consequently the solar deity was associated in symbolism with masculine and the moon with feminine emblems.
An inquiry into antiquity, as represented by Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, and others, and into modern faiths still current, as represented in the peninsula of India, in the Lebanon, and elsewhere, shows that ideas of sex have been very generally associated with that of creation. God has been described as a king, or as a queen, or as both united. As monarch, he is supposed to be man, or woman, or both. As man differs from woman in certain peculiarities, these very means of distinction have been incorporated into the worship of god and goddess. Rival sects have been ranged in ancient times under the symbol of the T and the O as in later times they are under the cross and the crescent. The worship of God the Father has repeatedly clashed with that of God the Mother, and the votaries of each respectively have worn badges characteristic of the sex of their deity. An illustration of this is to be seen amongst ourselves; one sect of Christians adoring chiefly the Trinity, another reverencing the Virgin. There is a well-known picture, indeed, of Mary worshipping her infant; and to the former is given the title Mater Creatoris, "the mother of the Creator." Our sexual sections are as well marked as those in ancient Jerusalem, which swore by Jehovah and Ashtoreth respectively.
The idea of sexuality in religion is quite compatible with a ritual and practice of an elaborate character, and a depth of piety which prefers starvation to impurity, or, as the Bible has it, to uncleanness. To eat "with the blood" was amongst the Hebrews a crime worthy of death; to eat with unwashed hands was a dreadful offence in the eyes of the Pharisees of Jerusalem; and in the recent famine in Bengal, we have seen that individuals would rather die of absolute hunger, and allow their children to perish too, than eat bread or rice which may have been touched by profane hands, or drink milk that had been expressed by British milkmaids from cows' udders. Yet these same Hindoos, the very particular sect of the Brahmins, have amongst themselves a form of worship which to our ideas is incompatible with real religion. The folks referred to adore the Creator, and respect their ceremonial law even more deeply, than did the Hebrews after the time of the Babylonish captivity; but they have a secret cult in which—and in the most, matter-of-fact way—they pay a very practical homage to one or other of the parts which is thought by the worshipper to be a mundane emblem of the Creator.
The curious will find in Essays on the Religion of the Hindus, by H. H. Wilson, in the Dabistan, translated by Shea and Troyer (Allen and Co., London), 3 vols., 8vo., and in Memoirs of the Anthropological Society of London (Tr ner and Co.), vols. 1 and 2, much information on the method of conducting the worship referred to. The first named author thinks it advisable to leave the Brahminic "rubric" for the "Sakti Sodhana," for the most part under the veil of the original Sanscrit, and I am not disposed wholly to withdraw it.
But Christians are not pure; some of my readers may have seen a work written by an Italian lady of high birth, who was in early life forced into a nunnery, and who left it as soon as she had a chance. In her account she tells us how the women in the monastery were seduced by reverend Fathers, who were at one time the instruments of vice, at another the guides to penitence. Their practice was to instruct their victims that whatever was said or done must be accompanied by a pious sentence. Thus, "I love you dearly" was a profane expression; but "I desire your company in the name of Jesus," and "I embrace in you the Holy Virgin," were orthodox. In like manner, the Hindus have prayers prescribed for their use, when the parts are to be purified prior to proceeding to extremities, when they are introduced to each other, in the agitation which follows, and when the ceremony is completed. Everything is done, as Ritualists would say, decently and in order; and a pious orgie, sanctified by prayers, cannot be worse than the penance ordained by some "confessors" to those faithful damsels whose minds are plastic enough to believe that a priest is an embodiment of the Holy Ghost, and that they become assimilated to the Blessed Virgin when they are overshadowed by the power of the Highest (Luke i. 85).
There being, then, in "religion" a strong sensual element, ingenuity has been exercised to a wonderful extent in the contrivance of designs, nearly or remotely significant of this idea, or rather union of the conceptions to which we have referred. Jupiter is a Proteus in form; now a man, now a bull, now a swan, now an androgyne. Juno, or her equivalent, is sometimes a woman, occasionally a lioness, and at times a cow. All conceivable attributes of man and woman were symbolised; and gods were called by the names of power, love, anger, desire, revenge, fortune, etc. Everything in creation that resembled in any way the presumed Creator, whether in name, in character, or in shape, was supposed to represent the deity. Hence a palm tree was a religious emblem, because it is long, erect, and round; an oak, for it is hard and firm; a fig-tree, because its leaves resemble the male triad. The ivy was sacred from a similar cause. A myrtle was also a type, but of the female, because its leaf is a close representation of the vesica piscis. Everything, indeed, which in any way resembles the characteristic organs of man and woman, became symbolic of the one or the other deity, Jupiter or Juno, Jehovah or Astarte, the Father or the Virgin. Sometimes, but very rarely, the parts in question were depicted au naturel, and the means by which creation is effected became the mundane emblem of the Almighty; and two huge phalli were seen before a temple, as we now see towers or spires before our churches, and minarets before mosques. (Lucian, Dea Syria.)
Generally, however, it was considered the most correct plan to represent the organs by some conventional form, understood by the initiated, but not by the unlearned. Whatever was upright, and longer than broad, became symbolic of the father; whilst that which was hollow, cavernous, oval, or circular, symbolised the mother. A sword, spear, arrow, dart, battering ram, spade, ship's prow, anything indeed intended to pierce into something else was emblematic of the male; whilst the female was symbolised as a door, a hole, a sheath, a target, a shield, a field, anything indeed which was to be entered. The Hebrew names sufficiently indicate the plan upon which the sexes were distinguished; the one is a zachar, a perforator or digger, and the other nekebah, a hole or trench, i, e. male and female.
These symbols were not necessarily those of religious belief. They might indicate war, heroism, prowess, royalty, command, etc., or be nothing more than they really were. They only symbolised the Creator when they were adopted into religion. Again, there was a still farther refinement; and advantage was taken of the fact, that one symbol was tripliform, the other single; one of one shape, and the other different. Consequently, a triangle, or three things, arranged so that one should stand above the two, became emblematic of the Father, whilst an unit symbolised the Mother.
These last three sentences deserve close attention, for some individuals have, in somewhat of a senseless fashion, objected, that a person who can see in a tortoise an emblem of the male, and in a horse-shoe an effigy of the female organ, must be quite too fantastical to deserve notice. But to me, as to other inquirers, these things are simply what they appear to be when they are seen in common life. Yet when the former creature occupies a large space in mythology; when the Hindoo places it as the being upon which the world stands, and the Greeks represent one Venus as resting upon a tortoise and another on a goat; and when one knows that in days gone by, in which people were less refined, the [—Greek—] was displayed where the horse-shoe is now, and that some curiously mysterious attributes were assigned to the part in question; we cannot refuse to see the thing signified in the sign.
Again, inasmuch as what we may call the most prominent part of the tripliform organ was naturally changeable in character, being at one time soft, small, and pendent, and at another hard, large, and upright, those animals that resembled it in these respects became symbolical. Two serpents, therefore, one Indian, and the other Egyptian, both of which are able to distend their heads and necks, and to raise them up erect, were emblematic, and each in its respective country typified the father, the great Creator. In like manner, another portion of the triad was regarded as similar in shape and size to the common hen's egg. As the celebrated physiologist, Haller, remarked, "Omne vivum ex ovo" every living thing comes from an egg; so more ancient biologists recognised that the dual part of the tripliform organ was as essential to the creation of a new being as the central pillar. Hence an egg and a serpent became a characteristic of "the Father," El, Ab, Ach, Baal, Asher, Melech, Adonai, Jahu, etc. When to this was added a half moon, as in certain Tyrian coins, the trinity and unity were symbolised, and a faith expressed like the one held in modern Rome, that the mother of creation is co-equal with the father; the one seduces by her charms, and the other makes them fructify.
To the Englishman, who, as a rule, avoids talking upon the subject which forms the basis of many an ancient religion, it may seem incredible that any individual, or set of writers, could have exercised their ingenuity in finding circumlocutory euphemisms for things which, though natural, are rarely named. Yet the wonder ceases when we find, in the writings of our lively neighbours, the French, a host of words intended to describe the parts referred to, which correspond wholly with the pictorial emblems adopted by the Greeks and others.
As English writers have, as a rule, systematically avoided making any distinct reference to the sexual ideas embodied in ancient Paganism, so they have, by their silence, encouraged the formation of a school of theology which has no solid foundation, except a very animal one. As each individual finds out this for himself, it becomes a question with him how far the information shall be imparted to others. So rarely has the determination to accuse the vampire been taken, that we can point to very few English books to which to refer our readers. We do not know one such that is easily accessible; K. Payne Knight's work, and the addition thereto, having been privately printed, is not often to be found in the market. To give a list of the foreign works which the author has consulted, prior to and during the composition of his book on Ancient Faiths, would be almost equivalent to giving a catalogue of part of his library. He may, however, indicate the name of one work which is unusually valuable for reference, viz., Histoire Histoire abrégée des Differens Cultes, par J. A. Dulaure, 2 vols., small 8vo., Paris, 1825. Though out of print, copies can generally be procured through second-hand booksellers. Another work, 'Recherches sur les Mystères de Paganism', by St. Croix, is equally valuable, but it is very difficult to procure a copy.
The ancient Jews formed no exception to the general law of reverence for the male emblem of the Creator; and though we would, from their pretensions to be the chosen people of God, gladly find them exempt from what we consider to be impurities, we are constrained to believe that, even in the worship of Jehovah, more respect was given to the symbol than we, living in modern times, think that it deserves. In their Scriptures we read of Noah, whose infirm temper seems to have been on a par with his weakness for wine, cursing one of his three sons because, whilst drunk, he had negligently exposed his person, and the young man had thought the sight an amusing one. Ham had no reverence for the symbol of the Creator, but Shem and Japhet had, and covered it with a veil as respectfully as if it had been the ineffable framer of the world (Gen. ix. 21-27). As our feelings of propriety induce us to think that the father was a far greater sinner than the son, we rejoice to know that the causeless curse never fell, and that Ham, in the lands of Canaan, Assyria, and Babylonia, and subsequently in Carthaginian Spain, were the masters of those Hebrews, whose main force, in old times, lay in impotent scoldings, such, as Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Caliban.
One of the best proofs of the strong sexual element which existed in the religion of the Jews is the fact that Elohim, one of the names of the Creator amongst the Hebrews, is represented, Gen. xvii. 10-14, as making circumcision a sign of his covenant with the seed of Abraham; and in order to ascertain whether a man was to be regarded as being in the covenant, God is supposed to have looked at the state of the virile organ, or—as the Scripture has it—of the hill of the foreskin. We find, indeed, that Jehovah was quite as particular, and examined a male quite as closely as Elohim: for when Moses and Zipporah were on their way from Midian to Egypt, Exod. iv. 24, Jehovah having looked at the "trinity" of Moses' son, and having found it as perfect as when the lad was born, sought to slay him, and would have done so unless the mother had mutilated the organ according to the sacred pattern. Again, we find in Josh. v. 2, and in the following verses, that Jehovah insisted upon all the Hebrew males having their virile member in the covenant condition ere they went to attack the Canaanites. We cannot suppose that any scribe could dwell so much as almost every scriptural writer does upon the subject of circumcision, had not the masculine emblem been held in religious veneration amongst the Jewish nation.
But the David who leaped and danced, obscenely as we should say, before the ark—an emblem of the female creator—who purchased his wife from her royal father by mutilating a hundred Philistines, and presenting the foreskins which he had cut off therefrom "in full tale" to the king (1 Sam. xviii. 27, 2 Sam. iii. 14), who was once the captain of a monarch who thought it a shame beyond endurance to be abused, tortured, or slain by men whose persons were in a natural condition (1 Sam. xxxi. 4), and who imagined that he, although a stripling, could conquer a giant, because the one had a sanctified and the other a natural member—is the man whom we know as the author of Psalms with which Christians still refresh their minds and comfort their souls. The king who, even in his old age, was supposed to think so much of women that his courtiers sought a lovely damsel as a comfort for his dying bed, is believed to have been the author of the noble nineteenth Psalm, and a number of others full of holy aspirations. It is clear, then, that sexual ideas on religion are not incompatible with a desire to be holy. The two were co-existent in Palestine; they are equally so in Bengal.
We next find that Abraham, the cherished man of God, the honoured patriarch of the Jews, makes his servant lay his hand upon the master's member, whilst he takes an oath to do his bidding, precisely like a more modern Palestinian might do; and Jacob does the same with Joseph. See Gen. xxiv. 8, and xlvii. 29.
As it is not generally known that the expression, "under my thigh," is a euphemism for the words, "upon the symbol of the Creator," I may point to two or three other passages in which the thigh (translated in the authorised version loins) is used periphrastically: Genesis xxxv. 2, xlvi. 26; Exod. i. 5. See Ginsburg, in Kitto's Biblical Cyclopadia, vol. 8, p. 848, 8. v. Oath.
I have on two occasions read, although I failed to make a note of it, that an Arab, during the Franco-Egyptian war, when accused by General Kleber of treachery, not only vehemently denied it, but when he saw himself still distrusted, he uncovered himself before the whole military staff, and swore upon his trinity that he was guiltless. In the Lebanon, once in each year, every female considers it her duty to salute with her lips the reverenced organ of the Old Sheik.
Again we learn, from Deut. xxiii. 1, that any unsanctified mutilation of this part positively entailed expulsion from the congregation of the Lord. Even a priest of the house of Aaron could not minister, as such, if his masculinity had been in any way impaired (Lev. xxi. 20); and report says that, in our Christian times, Popes have to be privately perfect; see also Deut. xxv. 11, 12. Moreover, the inquirer finds that the Jewish Scriptures teem with promises of abundant offspring to those who were the favourites of Jehovah; and Solomon, the most glorious of their monarchs, is described as if he were a Hercules amongst the daughters of Thespius. Nothing can indicate the licentiousness of the inhabitants of Jerusalem more clearly than the writings of Ezekiel.§ If, then, in Hebrew law and practice, we find such a strong infusion of the sexual element, we cannot be surprised if it should be found elsewhere, and gradually influence Christianity.
§ See Ezekiel xxii. 1-30, and compare Jerem. v. 7, 8.
We must next notice the fact, that what we call impurity in religious tenets does not necessarily involve indecency in practice. The ancient Romans, in the time of the early kings, seem to have been as proper as early Christian maidens. It is true that, in the declining days of the empire, exhibitions that called forth the fierce denunciations of the fathers of the Church took place; but we find very similar occurrences in modern Christian capitals. In Spartan days, chastity and honesty were not virtues, but drunkenness was a vice. In Christian England, drunkenness is general, and we cannot pride ourselves upon universal honesty and chastity. It is not the national belief, but the national practice, which evidences a people's worth. Spain and Ireland, called respectively "Catholic" and "the land of saints," cannot boast of equality with "infidel" France and "free-thinking" Prussia. England will be as earnest, as upright, and as civilised, when she has abandoned the heathen elements in her religion, as when she hugs them as if necessary to her spiritual welfare. Attachment to the good parts of religion is wholly distinct from a close embrace of the bad ones; and we believe he deserves best of his country who endeavours to remove every possible source of discord. None can doubt the value of the order, "Do to others as you would wish others to do to you." If all unite to carry this out, small differences of opinion may at once be sunk. How worthless are many of the dogmas that people now fight about, the following pages will show.
In our larger work we have endeavoured to show that there may be a deep sense of religion, a feeling of personal responsibility, so keen as to influence every act of life, without there being a single symbol used. The earnest Sakya Muni, or Buddha, never used anything as a sacred emblem; nor did Jesus, who followed him, and perhaps unconsciously propagated the Indian's doctrine. When the Apostles were sent out to teach and preach, they were not told to carry out any form of ark or crucifix. To them the doctrine of the Trinity was unknown, and not one of them had any particular reverence for her whom we call the Virgin Mary, who, if she was 'virgo intacta' when Jesus was born, was certainly different when she bore his brothers. Paul and Peter, though said to be the fathers of the Roman Church, never used or recommended the faithful to procure for themselves "a cross" as an aid to memory. The early Christians recognised each other by their deeds, and never had, like the Jews, to prove that they were in covenant with God, by putting a mutilated part of their body into full view. We, with the Society of Friends, prefer primitive to modern Christianity.
In the following pages the author has felt himself obliged to make use of words which are probably only known to those who are more or less "scholars." He has to treat of parts of the human body, and acts which occur habitually in the world, which in modern times are never referred to in polite society, but which, in the period when the Old Testament was written, were spoken of as freely as we now talk of our hands and feet. In those days, everything which was common was spoken of without shame, and that which occurred throughout creation, and was seen by every one, was as much the subject of conversation as eating and drinking is now. The Hebrew-writers were extremely coarse in their diction, and although this has been softened down by subsequent redactors, much which is in our modern judgment improper still remains. For example, where we simply indicate the sex, the Jewish historians used the word which was given to the symbol by which male and female are known; for example, in Gen. i. 27, and v. 2, and in a host of other places, the masculine and feminine are spoken of as zachar and nekebah, which is best translated as "borers" and "bored." Another equally vulgar way of describing men is to be found in 1 Kings xiv. 10. But these observations would not serve us much in symbolism did we not know that they were associated with certain euphemisms by which when one thing is said another is intended; for an illustration let us take Isaiah vii. 20, and ask what is meant by the phrase, "the hair of the feet"? It is certain that the feet are never hairy, and consequently can never be shaved. Again, when we find in Gen. xlix. 10, "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet," and compare this with Deut. xxviii. 57, and 2 Kings xviii. 27, where the words are, in the original, "the water of their feet," it is clear that symbolic language is used to express something which, if put into the vernacular, would be objectionable to ears polite. Again, in Genesis xxiv. 2 and xlvii. 29, and in Heb. xi. 21, it is well known to scholars that the word "thigh" and "staff" are euphemisms to express that part which represents the male. In Deut. xxiii. 1, we have evidence, as in the last three verses quoted, of the sanctity of the part referred to, but the language is less refined. Now-a-days our ears are not attuned to the rough music which pleased our ancestors, and we have to use veiled language to express certain matters. In the following pages, the words which I select are drawn from the Latin, Greek, Sanscrit, Shemitic, or Egyptian. Hea, Ann, and Asher replace the parts referred to in Deut. xxiii. 1; Osiris, Asher, Linga, Mahadeva, Siva, Priapus, Phallus, etc., represent the Hebrew zachar ; whilst Isis, Parvati, Yoni, Sacti, Astarte, Ishtar, etc., replace the Jewish nekebah. The junction of these parts is spoken of as Ashtoreth, Baalim, Elohim, the trinity and unity, the androgyne deity, the arba, or mystic four, and the like.
I will only add, that what I refer to has long been known to almost every scholar except English ones. Of these a few are learned; but for a long period they have systematically refrained from speaking plainly, and have written in such a manner as to be guilty not only of suppressio veri but of suggestio falsi.
After reading thus far, I can imagine many a person saying with astonishment, "Are these things so?" and following up his thoughts by wondering what style of persons they were, or are, who could introduce into religion such matters as those of which we have treated.
In reply, I can only say that I have nothing extenuated, and set down nought in malice. But the first clause of the assertion requires modification, for in this volume there are many things omitted which I have referred to at length in my larger work. In that I have shown, not only that religious fornication existed in ancient Babylon, but that there is reason to believe that it existed also in Palestine. The word [—Hebrew—] Kadesh, which signifies "pure, bright, young, to be holy, or to be consecrated," is also the root from which are formed the words Kadeshah and Kadeshim, which are used in the Hebrew writings, and are translated in our authorised version "whore" and "sodomite." See Bent, xxiii. 17.
Athanasius tells us something of this as regards the Phoenicians, for he says, (Oratio Contr. Gent., part i., p. 24.) "Formerly, it is certain that Phoenician women prostituted themselves before their idols, offering their bodies to their gods in the place of first fruits, being persuaded that they pleased the goddess by that means, and made her propitious to them."
Strabo mentions a similar occurrence at Comana, in Pontus, book xiii., c. iii. p. 86—and notices that an enormous number of women were consecrated to the use of worshippers in the temple of Venus at Corinth.
Such women exist in India, and the priests of certain temples do everything in their power to select the loveliest of the sex, and to educate them so highly as to be attractive.
The customs which existed in other places seem to have been known in Jerusalem, as we find in 1 Kings xiv. 24., XV. 12, that Kadeshim were common in Judea, and in 2 Kings xxiii. 7, we discover that these "consecrated ones" were located "by the temple," and were associated with women whose business was "to make hangings for the grove." What these tissues were and what use was made of them will be seen in Ezekiel xvi. 16.
Even David, when dancing before the ark, shamelessly exposed himself. Solomon erected two pillars in the porch of his temple, and called them Jachin and Boaz, and added pomegranate ornaments. We have seen how Abraham and Jacob ordered their inferiors to swear by putting the hand upon "the thigh"; and we have read of the atrocities which occurred in Jerusalem in the time of Ezekiel. Yet the Jews are still spoken of as God's chosen people, and the Psalmist as a man after God's own heart.
But without going so far back, let us inquire into the conduct of the sensual Turks, and of the general run of the inhabitants of Hindostan. From everything that I can learn—and I have repeatedly conversed with those who have known the Turks and Hindoos familiarly—these are in every position in life as morally good as common Christians are.
My readers must not now assert that I am either a partisan or a special pleader when I say this; they must consider that I am making the comparison as man by man. I do not, as missionaries do, compare the most vicious Mahomedan and Brahmin with the most exemplary Christian; nor do I, on the other hand, compare the best Ottoman and Indian with Christian criminals; but I take the whole in a mass, and assert that there is as large a percentage of good folks in India and Turkey as there is in Spain and France, England or America.
The grossest form of worship is compatible with general purity of morals. The story of Lucretia is told of a Pagan woman, whilst those of Er and Onan, Tamar and Judah relate to Hebrews. David, who seduced Bathsheba, and killed her husband, was not execrated by "God's people," nor was he consequently driven from his throne as Tarquin was by the Romans.
In prowess and learning, the Babylonians, with their religious prostitution, were superior to the "chosen people." Of the wealth and enterprise of the Phoenicians, Ancient History tells us abundance.
There are probably no three cities in ancient or modern times which contain so many vicious individuals as London, Paris, and New York. Yet there are none which history tells us of that were more powerful. No Babylonian army equalled in might or numbers the army of the Northern United States. Nineveh never wielded armies equal to those of the French Napoleon and the German William, and Rome never had an empire equal to that which is headed by London.
The existence of personal vice does not ruin a nation in its collective capacity. Nor does the most sensual form of religion stunt the prosperity of a people, so long as the latter do not bow their necks to a priesthood.
The greatest curse to a nation is not a bad religion, but a form of faith which prevents manly inquiry. I know of no nation of old that was priest-ridden which did not fall under the swords of those who did not care for hierarchs.
The greatest danger is to be feared from those ecclesiastics who wink at vice, and encourage it as a means whereby they can gain power over their votaries. So long as every man does to other men as he would that they should do to him, and allows no one to interfere between him and his Maker, all will go well with the world.
Whilst the following sheets were going through the press, my friend Mr. Newton, who has not only assisted me in a variety of ways, but who has taken a great deal of interest in the subject of symbolism, gave me to understand that there were some matters in which he differed very strongly from me in opinion. One of these was as to the correct interpretation of the so-called Assyrian grove; another was the signification of one of Lajard's gems, Plate iv., Fig. 3; and the most conspicuous of our divergencies was respecting the fundamental, or basic idea, which prompted the use in religion of those organs of reproduction which have, from time immemorial, been venerated in Hindostan, and, as far as we can learn, in Ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, Tyre, Sidon, Carthage, Jerusalem, Etruria, Greece, and Rome, as well as in countries called uncivilised. I feel quite disposed to acquiesce in the opinions which my old friend has formed respecting the Assyrian grove, but I am not equally ready to assent to his other opinions.
Where two individuals are working earnestly for the elucidation of truth, there ought, in my opinion, to be not only a tolerance of disagreement, but an honest effort to submit the subject to a jury of thoughtful readers.
As I should not feel satisfied to allow any other person to express my opinions in his words, it seemed to me only fair to Mr. Newton to give him the facility of enunciating his views in his own language. It was intended, originally, that my friend's observations upon the "grove" should be followed by a dissertation upon other relics of antiquity—notably upon that known as Stonehenge—but circumstances have prevented this design being carried into execution.
When two individuals who have much in common go over the same ground, it is natural, indeed almost necessary, that they should dwell upon identical topics. Hence it will be found that there are points which are referred to by us both, although possibly in differing relationship.
As my own part of the following remarks were printed long before I saw Mr. Newton's manuscript, I hope to be pardoned for allowing them to stand. The bulk of the volume will not be increased to the extent of a full page.
If I were to be asked the reason why I differ from Mr. Newton in his exalted idea about the adoption of certain bodily organs as types, tokens, or emblems of an unseen and an inscrutable Creator, my answer would be drawn from the observations made upon every known order of priesthood, from the most remote antiquity to the present time. No matter what the creed, whether Ancient or Modern, the main object of its exponents and supporters is to gain over the minds of the populace. This has never yet been done, and probably never will be attempted, by educating the mind of the multitude to think.
In Great Britain we find three sets of hierarchs opposed to each other, and all equally, by every means in their power, prohibit independent inquiry.
A young Romanist convert, as we have recently seen, is discouraged from persevering in the study of history and logic; a Presbyterian is persecuted, as far as the law of the land permits, if he should engage in an honest study of the Bible, of the God which it presents for our worship, and of the laws that it enforces. A bishop of the Church of England is visited by the puny and spiteful efforts of some of his nominal equals if he ventures to treat Jewish writings as other critics study the tomes of Livy or of Herodotus.
One set of men have banded together to elect a god on earth, and endeavour to coerce their fellow-mortals to believe that a selection by a few old cardinals can make the one whom they choose to honour "infallible."
Another set of men, who profess to eschew the idea of infallibility in a Pope, assume that they possess the quality themselves, and endeavour to blot out from the communion of the faithful those who differ from them "on points which God hath left at large."
Surely, when with all our modern learning, thought, and scientific enquiry, hierarchs still set their faces against an advance in knowledge, and quell, if possible, every endeavour to search after truth, we are not far wrong when we assert, that the first priests of barbarism had no exalted views of such an abstract subject as life, in the higher and highest senses, if indeed in any sense of the word.
Another small point of difference between my friend and me is, whether there has been at any time a figured representation of a kakodoemon—except since the beginning of Christianity—and if, by way of stretching a point, we call Typhon—Satan or the Devil—by this name, as being opposed to the Agathodoemon, whether we are justified in providing this evil genius with wings. As far as I can judge from Chaldean and Assyrian sculptures, wings were given to the lesser deities as our artists assign them to modern angels. The Babylonian Apollyon, by whatever name he went, was winged—but so were all the good gods. The Egyptians seem to have assigned wings only to the favourable divinities. The Jews had in their mythology a set of fiery flying serpents, but we must notice that their cherubim and seraphim were all winged, some with no less than three pairs—much as Hindoo gods have four heads and six, or any other number of arms.
Mr. Newton assumes that the dragon mentioned in Rev. xii. was a winged creature, but it is clear from the context, especially from verses 14 and 15, that he had no pinions, for he was unable to follow the woman to whom two aerial oars had been given.
The dragon, as we know it, is, I believe, a medieval creation; such a creature is only spoken of in the Bible in the book of Revelation, and the author of that strange production drew his inspiration on this point from the Iliad, where a dragon is described as of huge size, coiled like a snake, of blood-red colour, shot with changeful hues, and having three heads. Homer, Liddell, and Scott add—used [—Greek—] indifferently for a serpent. So does the author of Rev. in ch. xx. 2. I have been unable to discover any gnostic gem with anything like a modern dragon on it.
Holding these views, I cannot entertain the proposition that the winged creatures in the very remarkable gem already referred to are evil genii.
In a question of this kind the mind is perhaps unconsciously biassed by comparing one antiquarian idea with another. A searcher amongst Etruscan vases will see not only that the angel of death is winged, but that Cupid, Eros, or by whatever other name "desire" or love goes, frequently hovers over the bridal or otherwise voluptuous couch, and attends beauty at her toilet. The Greeks also gave to Eros a pair of wings, intended, it is fancied, to represent the flutterings of the heart, produced when lovers meet or even think of each other. Such a subordinate deity would be in place amongst so many sexual emblems as Plate iv. Fig. 3 contains, whilst a koakdoemon would be a "spoil sport," and would make the erected serpents drop rather than remain in their glory.
These matters are apparently of small importance, but when one is studying the signification of symbolical language, he has to pay as close an attention, and extend the net of observation over as wide a sea as a scholar does when endeavouring to decipher some language written in long-forgotten characters, and some divergence of opinion between independent observers sharpens the intellect more than it tries the temper.