Sayfadaki görseller

that Croesus was boiling flesh in a covered brass vessel, though the secret was known only to himself, and he was hundreds of miles distant. That these phenomena were noticed by the ancients seems to be indicated by their general theory that man was endowed with an intermediate substance between his rational soul and his body. They sometimes called it an aërial body, and sometimes a sensuous soul; and they described it as having all of sensation in each and every part of it; as “all eye, all ear, and all taste.”

It seems to me that these facts help to solve the problem concerning oracles. The influence they retained over the minds of intelligent men, for so many ages, is difficult to reconcile with the idea that they were mere results of trickery. Women were generally chosen to deliver oracles, and some of the anecdotes concerning them imply that they were of nervous temperaments.

It seems most likely that those women were sometimes clairvoyant; and that the priests, judging according to the spirit of those ages, really believed their mysterious utterance came from the gods. But clairvoyants were of rare occurrence, and the demand for oracles was continual. Tempted by the rich offerings which inquirers brought to the temples on such occasions, the priests doubtless resorted to counterfeits, when they could not find the reality. They constructed sentences studiously enigmatical, and spoke from within hollow statues what the god himself was supposed to utter. Hence, the oracles delivered were sometimes wonderfully true, at other times wholly false; more frequently than either, utterly incomprehensible. But the true oracles, though rare, sufficed to keep alive the general faith.

We misjudge our brethren of the older world, when we suppose that their systems of religion were cunningly devised by priests on purpose to enslave the people. Every form of religion that has swayed the minds of men originated in a sincere faith. They all began in earnest, taught much that was true, became sources of wealth and power,


and then degenerated. The learned Schlegel observes: “The more I investigate the ancient history of the world, the more I am convinced that the civilized nations started with a purer worship of the Supreme Being; that the magic power of Nature over the imagination of successive human races produced polytheism at a later period, and finally, in the popular belief, altogether obscured the more spiritual religious ideas; while the wise alone preserved the primeval secret within the sanctuary.” He goes on to say that the mythologies of different countries were the most changeable and contradictory portions of religion; varying according to climate, soil, and other circumstances.

The wide separation between the views of priests and philosophers, and those of the people, which grew out of the maintenance of secret doctrines, had a disastrous effect on the character of nations. The most incoherent and disjointed traditions, the merest external ideas, the most degrading rites, existed in the same country side by side with the most sublime theories, and the most poetical allegories. Hebrew Scriptures contain several indications that this exile of the people from all sources of spiritual truth in Egypt had made a deep impression on the great soul of Moses. He started with the noble project of making the Israelites "a nation of priests.” Swayed by his superior nature, they promised to do all that the Lord commanded; but even during his short absence on tbe mountain, they returned to the animal worship of the Egyptian populace, in which his own brother encouraged them. They offered sacrifices to the image of the golden calf, a representative of Apis, and when the religious ceremonials were completed, they feasted on the animals sacrificed, and sang aloud, and danced naked, and made themselves merry, as was the custom at Egyptian festivals. The indignation and discouragement of Moses was shown by his breaking in pieces the table of moral laws, which he had brought down from the mountain, and ordering thousands of the people to be sacrificed as an atonement for their sin. He also made proclamation : “Thus saith the Lord, I will send an Angel before thee; I will not go up in the midst of thee myself, lest I consume thee in the way; for thou art a stiff-necked people.” The second time he went up the mountain to consult the Lord, he returned with another set of commandments, far more ceremonial in their character, as if made in adaptation to the external views of the people. Jeremiah seems to imply that Moses first tried to bring the people up to a higher standard than was afterward adopted; for be declared: “Thus saith the God of Israel, I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices, in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you." Ezra returned to the great idea of teaching all the people, which had been conceived by Moses. Every village had its synagogue, where the Law and the Prophets were publicly read and expounded every Sabbath, to women as well as to men. This was a grand and peculiar feature in Hebrew history, and it deserves our reverence and gratitude.

Even when the Jewish religion became a mere mass of ceremonials, so that prophets declared the Lord was weary of their burnt offerings, some souls among them preserved a degree of interior life, while they strictly conformed to the established ritual, by regarding it all as symbolical of high ideas. The spiritual-minded in all ages, and all countries, find some way to reconcile the most external formalities of worship, and the wildest stories in their Sacred Books, with their own conceptions of what is holy and true. The mistake we make is in supposing that our own religion is the only one that so adapts itself. At the gate of every Paradise, God has placed these flaming cherubim, which turn every way, to guard the Tree of Life.

In order to do justice to ancient modes of thought, it is necessary always to bear in mind this proneness to invest outward forms with spiritual significance. It was constantly manifested in the worship of various forces of Nature, especially of Light. In several countries, there were two deities of the Sun; one being the Divine Idea, from which the other was formed; thus it became the Attendant Ferver, or Guardian Angel of the lower form, and embodied a much higher idea. In Hindostan, Surya, who drove the golden chariot of day through the heavens, was a mere subaltern, compared with Crishna, God of the Sun, and Source of Truth. In Persia, Mithras, the Spirit of Intelligence, as well as of Light, was far superior to Korshid, the visible luminary. In Greece, Helios was

, merely the resplendent orb of day, but Apollo was King of Intellectual Light, whose gifts were poetry, prophecy, and knowledge of medicine. That poets and philosophers worshipped Truth under the symbol of Light is very evident from many expressions of Plato; from the morning prayer of the Therapeutæ in Egypt; and from the declaration of Hindoo commentators, that when they pray to the Sun, they meditate on the Supreme Internal Spirit of that heavenly orb, “who constantly directs the intellect of man toward the acquisition of virtue, wealth, and final beatitude.” Doubtless the unreflecting crowd worshipped merely outward objects. But thinking minds everywhere raised their ideas to the souls within the objects. For the spirits who accompanied the Planets in their course, they had especial reverence; believing that they surrounded the throne of the Eternal One, and took friendly interest in the affairs of men; as we also think of archangels. Mortals everywhere crave mediums between their souls and the great inaccessible Father of All.

[ocr errors]

Oh, never rudely will I blame their faith
In the might of Stars and Angels! 'Tis not merely
The human being's Pride that peoples space
With life and mystical predominance;
Since likewise for the stricken heart of Love
This visible nature, and this common world
Are all too narrow."

A ser

The symbols by which different orders of Spirits were represented were doubtless very significant to the ancients, though they have become unmeaning to us.

It is likely that the winged lions, bulls, and serpents, so common in Hindoo, Chaldean, and Egyptian temples, had reference to powerful Spirits, supposed to preside over those constellations. Perhaps the cure of diseases, and the preservation of health might be regarded as peculiarly the mission of Spirits in the constellation of the Serpent. It seems otherwise difficult to explain how such an animal came to be the universal symbol of Immortality and Wisdom. pentras wreathed round the staff of Æsculapius, and came to be the common sign of physicians. The Egyptian Cross signified Life; but when twined with a Serpent it became the emblem of Immortal Life. In Hebrew,

the same word meant a seraph and a serpent. To be wise as a seraph conveys a much clearer idea to the modern mind, than to be wise as a serpent."

With regard to symbols and ceremonies now regarded as immodest, and which in fact became so, in process of time, it has already been suggested that they originated in the comparative simplicity and innocence of the human mind, and in that state excited genuine reverence. Benjamin Constant says, very wisely: “ The bad influence of licentious fables begins when contempt and ridicule are poured upon them. It is the same with ceremonies. The most indecent rites can be practised by a religious people with great purity of heart. But when incredulity reaches the people, such rites become the cause and the pretext of the most revolting corruption."

From the evidence collected in preceding pages, it is evident that no monotheistic religion has ever existed, if the word be taken in its strictest meaning. The doctrine of One Supreme God was common, but all believed in a multitude of Spirits, who were his ministers. The Persian religion strongly inculcated the idea of One Supreme Being, but it prescribed invocations to numerous Spirits, regarded merely as delegates and portions of Him. The Hebrew

Vol. II.--16

« ÖncekiDevam »