THERE is no study so
saddening, and none so sublime as that of the early religions of mankind.
To trace back the worship of God to its simple origin, and to mark the
gradual process of those degrading superstitions, and unhallowed rites
which darkened, and finally extinguished His presence in the ancient
At first men enjoyed the
blessings of nature as children do, without inquiring into causes. It was
sufficient for them that the earth gave them herbs, that the trees bore
them fruit, that the stream quenched their thirst. They were happy, and
every moment though unconsciously they offered a prayer of gratitude to
Him whom as yet they did not know.
And then a system of
theology arose amongst them vague and indefinite, as the waters of the
boundless sea. They taught each other that the sun, and the earth, the
moon, and the stars were moved and illumined by a Great Soul which was the
source of all life, which caused the birds to sing, the brooks to murmur,
and the sea to heave. It was a sacred Fire which shone in the firmament,
and in mighty flames. It was a strange Being which animated the, souls of
men, and which when the bodies died, returned to itself again.
They silently adored this
Great Soul in the beginning, and spoke of Him with reverence, and
sometimes raised their eyes timidly to His glittering dwelling-place on
And soon they learned to
pray. When those whom they loved lay dying, they uttered wild
lamentations, and flung their arms despairingly towards the mysterious
Soul; for in times of trouble the human mind so imbecile, so helpless,
clings to something that is stronger than itself.
As yet they worshipped only
the sun, the moon, and the stars-and not as Gods but as visions of that
Divine Essence, which alone ruled and pervaded the earth, the sky, and the
They adored Him kneeling,
with their hands clasped, and their eyes raised. They offered Him no
sacrifices, they built Him no temples; they were content to offer Him
their hearts which were full of awe, in His own temple which was full of
grandeur. And it is said that there are yet some barbarous islands where
men have no churches nor ceremonies, and where they worship God, reflected
in the work of His thousand hands.
But they were not long
content with this simple service. Prayer which had first been an
inspiration fell into a system, and men already grown wicked prayed the
Deity to give them abundance of wild beast's skins, and to destroy their
They ascended eminences, as
if hoping that thus being nearer God, He would prefer their prayers to
those of their rivals. Such is the origin of that superstitious reverence
for high places which was universal throughout the whole of the heathen
Then Orpheus was born. And
he invented instruments which to his touch and to his lips, gave forth
notes of surpassing sweetness, and with these melodies he enticed the
wondering savages into the recesses of the forest, and there taught them
precepts of obedience to the great Soul, and of loving-kindness towards
each other in harmonious words.
So they devoted groves and
forests to the worship of the Deity. There were men who had watched
Orpheus, and who had seen and envied his power over the herd who
surrounded him. They resolved to imitate him, and having studied these
barbarians, they banded together, and called themselves their priests.
Religion -is divine, but its ministers are men. And alas! sometimes they
are demons with the faces and wings of angels.
The simplicity of men, and
the cunning of their priests has destroyed or corrupted all the religions
of the world.
These priests taught the
people to sacrifice the choicest herbs and flowers. They taught them
formulas of prayer, and bade them make so many obeisances to the sun, and
to worship those flowers which opened their leaves when he rose, and which
closed them as he set.
They composed a language of
symbols which was perhaps necessary, since letters had not been invented,
but which perplexed the people and perverted them from the worship of the
Thus the sun and moon were
worshipped as emblems of God, and fire as an emblem of the sun, water as
an emblem of the moon.
The serpent was to be
worshipped also as an emblem of wisdom and eternal youth, since it renews
its skin every year, and thus periodically casts off all symptoms of old
And the bull, most vigorous
of animals, and whose horns resemble those of the crescent moon.
The priests observed the
avidity with which the barbarians adored these symbols, and increased
them. To worship the visible is a disease of the soul inherent to all
mankind, and the disease which these men could have healed they pandered
to. It is true that the first generation of men might have looked upon
these merely as the empty symbols of a Divine Being, but it is also
certain that in time the vulgar forgot the God in the emblem, and
worshipped that which their fathers had only honored. Egypt was the
fountain-head of these idolatries, and it was in Egypt that the priests
first applied real attributes to the sun, and to the moon whom they called
It may perhaps interest you
to listen to the first fable of the world. From the midst of chaos was
born Osiris, and at his birth a voice was heard proclaiming-"The ruler of
all the earth is born."
From the same dark and
troubled-womb were born Isis the Queen of Light, and Typhon the Spirit of
This Osiris traveled over
the whole world, and civilized its inhabitants, and taught them the art of
agriculture. But on his return to Egypt the jealous Typhon laid a
stratagem for him, and in the midst of a banquet had him shut up in a
chest which exactly fitted his body. He was nailed down in his prison,
which cast into the Nile floated down to the sea by the Taitic mouth,
which even in the time of Plutarch was never mentioned by an Egyptian but
with marks of detestation.
When Isis learnt these sad
new she cut off a lock of her hair, and put on her mourning robes, and
wandered through the whole country in search of the chest which contained
the dead body of her husband.
At length she learnt that
the chest had been carried by the waves to the shore of Byblos, and had
there lodged in the branches of a tamarisk bush, which quickly shot up and
became a large and beautiful tree, growing round the chest so that it
could not be seen.
The king of the country
amazed at the vast size the tree had so speedily acquired, ordered it to
be cut down to be hewn into a pillar to support the roof of his palace-the
chest being still concealed in the trunk.
The voice which had spoken
from Heaven at the birth of Osiris made known these things to poor Isis,
who went to the shore of Byblos and sat down silently by a fountain to
weep. The damsels of the queen met her and accosted her, and the queen
appointed her to be nurse to her child. And Isis fed the infant with her
finger instead of with her breast, and put him every night into fire to
render him immortal, while transforming herself into a swallow she hovered
round the pillar which was her husband's tomb, and bemoaned her unhappy
fate. It happened that the queen thus discovered her, and shrieked when
she saw her child surrounded by flames. By that cry she broke the charm
and deprived him of immortality.
By that cry Isis was
summoned back to her goddess-form, and stood before the awe-struck queen
shining with light and diffusing sweet fragrances around. She cut open the
pillar, and took the coffin with her, and opened it in a desert. There she
embraced the cold corpse of Osiris, and wept bitterly. She returned to
Egypt and hid the coffin in a remote place: but Typhon, hunting by
moonlight, chanced to find it, and divided the corpse into fourteen
pieces. Again Isis set out on her weary search throughout the whole land,
sailing over the fenny parts in a boat made of papyrus. She recovered all
the fragments except one which had been thrown into the sea. Each of these
she buried in the place where she found it, which explains why in Egypt
there are so many tombs of Osiris.
And instead of the limb
which was lost, she gave the phallus to the Egyptians-the disgusting
worship of which was thence carried into Italy, into Greece, and into all
the countries of the East.
When Isis died, she was
buried in a grove near Memphis. Over her grave was raised a statue covered
from head to foot with a black veil. And underneath was engraved these
divine words: I am all that has been, that is, that shall be, and none
among mortals has yet dared to raise my veil.
Beneath this veil are
concealed all the mysteries and learning of the past. A young scholar, his
fingers covered with the dust of venerable folios, his eyes weary and
reddened by nightly toil will now attempt to lift a corner of this
mysterious and sacred covering.
These two Deities, Isis and
Osiris were the parents of all the Gods and Godesses of the Heathens, or
were indeed those Gods themselves worshipped under different names. The
fable itself was received into the mythologies of the Hindoos and the
Romans. Sira is said to have mutilated Brahma as Typhon did Osiris, and
Venus to have lamented her slain Adonis, as Isis wept for her husband-god.
As yet the sun and moon
alone were worshipped under these two names. And as we have seen, besides
these twin beneficial spirits, men who had begun to recognize sin in their
hearts had created an Evil One who struggled with the power of light, and
fought with them for the souls of men.
It is natural for man to
fabricate something that is worse than himself. Even in the theology of
the American Indians which is the purest of the modem world, there is
found a Mahitou or dark Spirit.
Osiris or the sun was now
worshipped throughout the whole world, though under different names. He
wag the Mithra of the Persians, the Brahma of India, the Baal or Adonis of
the Phoenicians, the Apollo of the Greeks, the Odin Of Scandinavia, the Hu
of the Britons, and the Baiwe of the Laplanders. Isis also received the
names of Islene, Ceres, Rhea, Venus, Vesta, Cybele, Niobe,
Melissa--Nehalennia in the North; Isi with the Indians; Puzza among the
Chinese; and Ceridwen among the ancient Britons.
The Egyptians were sublime
philosophers who had dictated theology to the world. And in Chaldcea arose
the first astrologers who watched the heavenly bodies with curiosity as
well as with awe, and who made divine discoveries, and who called
themselves The Interpreters of God.
To each star they gave a
name, and to each day in the year they gave a star. And the Greeks and
Romans who were poets, wreathed these names into legends. Each name was a
person, each person was a god.
From these stories of the
stars originated the angels of the Jews, the genii of the Arabs, the
heroes of the Greeks, and the saints of the Romish Church. Now corruption
grew upon corruption, and superstition flung a black and hideous veil over
the doctrines of religion. A religion is lost as soon as it loses its
simplicity: truth has no mysteries: it is deceit alone that lurks in
obscurity. Men multiplied God into a thousand names, and created Him
always in their own image. Him, too, whom they had once deemed unworthy of
any temple less noble than the floor of the earth and the vast dome of the
sky, they worshipped in caves, and then in temples which were made of the
trunks of trees rudely sculptured, and ranged in rows to imitate groves,
and with other trunks placed upon them traversely.
Such were the first
buildings of worship erected by man from no reverence for the Deity, but
to display that which they doubtless conceived to be a stupendous effort
It may not be needless to
remind some of my readers that a superior being must view the elegant
temples of the Romans, the gorgeous pagodas of India, and our own Gothic
cathedrals with feelings similar to those with which we contemplate the
rude efforts of the early heathens, who deemed God unworthy of the fruits
and flowers which he himself had made, and offered to him the entrails of
beasts, and the hearts of human beings.
We may compare an ancient
and fallen religion to the ship of the Argonauts, which the Greeks
desiring to preserve to posterity, repairing in so many different ways,
that at length there did not remain a fragment of that vessel which had
born to Colchis the conqueror of the Golden Fleece.
Let us pass over a lapse of
years, and then contemplate the condition of these nations in whom
religion had been first born. We find the Egyptians adoring the most
common of plants, the most contemptible of beasts, the most hideous of
reptiles. The solemnity and pomp of their absurd ceremonies held them up
to the ridicule of the whole world.
Clemens of Alexandria
describes one of their temples:--(Pdag. lib. iii).-- "The walls shine
with gold and silver, and with amber, and sparkle with the gems of India
and Ethiopia: and the recesses are concealed by splendid curtains. But if
you enter the penetralia, and inquire for the image of God for whose sake
the fane was built; one of the Pastophori, or some other attendant on the
temple approaches with a solemn and mysterious face, and putting aside the
veil suffers you to obtain a glimpse of the divinity. There you behold a
snake, a crocodile, or a cat, or some other beast, a fitter inhabitant of
a cavern, or a bog than of a temple."
The priests of Egypt,
always impostors, but once so celebrated, had now degenerated into a race
Also the Chaldans lived
upon the fame of their fathers, and upon their own base trickeries.
The Brachmans or Brahmins,
those priests of India, once so virtuous and so wise-ah! they too had
fallen. Once they had forbidden the shedding of so much as an insects
blood: one day in the year alone, at the feast of Jagam, they were
authorized to sacrifice the flesh of a beast, and from this many had
refrained from attending, unable- to conquer their feelings of abhorrence.
But now they had learnt
from the fierce Scythians and from the Phoenicians who traded on their
coasts to sacrifice the wife upon her husbands pyre--to appease the gentle
Brahmah with the blood of men.
Now the angels who had
presided over them became savage demons, who scourged them on to cruel
penances, nay to life-times of suffering and famine.
In the sacred groves where
once the Brachman Fathers had taught their precepts of love, men
emaciated, careworn, dying, wandered sadly, waiting for death as tortured
prisoners wait for their liberty.
But worse still, these
wicked priests sought through the land for the most beautiful young women,
and trained them to dance in the temples, and to entice the devotees to
their arms with lustful attitudes and languishing looks, and with their
voices which mingled harmoniously with the golden bells suspended on
their feet. They sang hymns to the Gods in public, and in private enriched
the treasuries of the pagoda with their infamous earnings. Thus a pure and
simple religion was debased by the avarice and lewdness of its priests:
till the temples became a den of thieves: till prostitution sat enthroned
upon the altars of the Gods.
Greece and Rome buried in
sloth and luxury did not escape the general contamination. The emblem of
generation which Isis had bestowed upon the Egyptians, and which they had
held in abstract reverence, had now obtained a prominent place in the
festivals of these nations as did the Lingam in those of the Hindoos. It
was openly paraded in processions in the streets: it was worn by Roman
nations in bracelets upon their arms.
The sacred festivals and
mysteries which they had received from the Egyptians, and for which the
women had been wont to prepare themselves by continence, and the men by
fasting, were now mere vehicles for depravities of the lowest kind. Men
were permitted to join the women in their worship of Bacchus, of Adonis,
of the Bona Dea, and even of Priapus, and so dissolute did the Dionusia
become, that the civil powers were compelled to interfere with those of
religion, and the Bacchanalia were abolished by a decree of the Roman
And the Jews, the chosen
people of God, had not their religion changed? had not God, weary with
their sins, yielded them to captivity, scourged them with sorrow, menaced
them with curses?
They worshipped Baal-peor,
the Priapus of Assyria, they sacrificed their children to Moloch: they had
dancing-girls in the holy temple.
I will not go deeper into
particulars so degrading to human nature. I will rather invite you to
follow me to a corner of the world where, at least for many ages religion
was preserved in its pristine purity, and whose priests, through a
barbarous soldiery, were received as martyrs in heaven before they had
learned to be knaves upon earth.
It was an isolated spot
unknown to the world in the earlier ages of vice. It is now a kingdom
renowned for its power and for its luxuries from hemisphere to hemisphere.
It was encircled by the
blue waters of the German and Atlantic Seas, and abounded in the choicest
gifts of nature.
It was called The White
Island from those cliffs which still frown so coldly upon Gaul, and The
Land of Green Hills from its verdant mountains. Come with me to its
shores, and I will show you its priests in their white robes, and its
warriors in the blue paint of war, and its virgins with their long and
glossy yellow hair.
But first I will lead you
back into the past, and relate to you why this land was called Albion, and