Through a study of the primitive god-idea as manifested in monumental records in various parts of the world; through scientific investigation into the early religious conceptions of mankind as expressed by symbols which appear in the architecture and decorations of sacred edifices and shrines; by means of a careful examination of ancient holy objects and places still extant in every quarter of the globe, and through the study of antique art, it is not unlikely that a line of investigation has been marked out whereby a tolerably correct knowledge of the processes involved in our present religious systems may be obtained. The numberless figures and sacred emblems which appear carved in imperishable stone in the earliest cave temples; the huge towers, monoliths, and rocking stones found in nearly every country of the globe, and which are known to be closely connected with primitive belief and worship, and the records found on tablets which are being unearthed in various parts of the world, are, with the unravelling of extinct tongues, proving an almost inexhaustible source for obtaining information bearing upon the early history of the human race, and, together, furnish indisputable evidence of the origin, development, and unity of religious faiths.
By comparing the languages used by the earlier races to express their religious conceptions; by observing the similarity in the mythoses and sacred appellations among all tribe and nations, an through the discovery of the fact that the legends extant in the various countries of the globe are identical, or have the same foundation, it is probable that a clue has already been obtained whereby an outline of the religious history of the human family from a period even as remote as the "first dispersion," or from a time when one race comprehended the entire population of the globe, maybe traced. Humboldt in his Researches observes: "In every part of the globe, on the ridge of the Cordilleras as well as in the Isle of Samothrace, in the Aegean Sea, fragments of primitive languages are preserved in religious rites."
Regarding the identity of the fundamental ideas contained in the various systems of religion, both past and present, Hargrave Jennings, in referring to a parallel drawn by Sir William Jones, between the deities of Meru and Olympus, observes:
"All our speculations tend to the same conclusions. One day it is a discovery of cinerary vases, the next, it is etymological research; yet again it is ethnological investigation, and the day after, it is the publication of unsuspected tales from the Norse; but all go to heap up proof of our consanguinity with the peoples of history—and of an original general belief, we might add."
That the religious systems of India and Egypt were originally the same, there can be at the present time no reasonable doubt. The fact noted by various writers, of the British Sepoys, who, on their overland route from India, upon beholding the ruins of Dendera, prostrated themselves before the remains of the ancient temples and offered adoration to them, proves the identity of Indian and Egyptian deities. These foreign devotees, being asked to explain the reason of their strange conduct declared that they "saw sculptured before them the gods of their country."
Upon the subject of the identity of Eastern religions, Wilford remarks that one and the same code both of theology and of fabulous history, has been received through a range or belt about forty degrees broad across the old continent, in a southeast and northwest direction from the eastern shores of the Malaga peninsula to the western extremity of the British Isles, that, through this immense range the same religious notions reappear in various places under various modifications, as might be expected; and that there is not a greater difference between the tenets and worship of the Hindoos and the Greeks than exists between the churches of Home and Geneva.
Concerning the universality of certain religious beliefs and opinions, Faber, commenting upon the above statement of Wilford, observes that, immense as is this territorial range, it is by far too limited to include the entire phenomenon, that the observation
"applies with equal propriety to the entire habitable globe; for the arbitrary rites and opinions of every pagan nation bear so close a resemblance to each other, that such a coincidence can only have been produced by their having had a common origin. Barbarism itself has not been able to efface the strong primeval impression. Vestiges of the ancient general system may be traced in the recently discovered islands in the Pacific Ocean; and, when the American world was first opened to the hardy adventurers of Europe, its inhabitants from north to south venerated, with kindred ceremonies and kindred notions, the gods of Egypt and Hindostan, of Greece and Italy, of Phoenicia and Britain."(1)
1) Pagan Idolatry, book i., ch. i.
"Though each religion has its own peculiar growth, the seed from which they spring is everywhere the same."(2)
2) Max Muller, Origin and Growth of Religion, p. 48.
The question as to whether the identity of conception and the similarity in detail observed in religious rites, ceremonies, and symbols in the various countries of the globe are due to the universal law of unity which governs human development, or whether, through the dispersion of one original people, the early conceptions of a Deity were spread broadcast over the entire earth, is perhaps not settled; yet, from the facts which have been brought forward during the last century, the latter theory seems altogether probable, such divergence in religious ideas as is observed among the various peoples of the earth being attributable to variations in temperament caused by changed conditions of life. In other words, the divergence in the course of religious development has doubtless been due to environment.
In an attempt to understand the history of the growth of the god-idea, the fact should be borne in mind that, from the earliest conception of a creative force in the animal and vegetable world to the latest development in theological speculation, there has never been what might consistently be termed a new religion. On the contrary, religion like everything else is subject to the law of growth; therefore the faiths of to-day are the legitimate result, or outcome, of the primary idea of a Deity developed in accordance with the laws governing the peculiar instincts which have been in the ascendancy during the life of mankind on the earth.
The erroneous impression which under a belief in the unknown has come to prevail, namely, that the moral law is the result of religion; or, in other words, that the human conscience is in some manner dependent on supernaturalism for its origin and maintenance, is, with a better and clearer understanding of the past history of the development of the human race, being gradually dispelled. On one point we may reasonably rest assured that the knowledge of right and wrong and our sense of justice and right-living have been developed quite independently of all religious beliefs. The moral law embodied in the golden rule is not an outgrowth of mysticism, or of man's notions of the unknowable; but, on the contrary, is the result of experience, and was formulated in response to a recognized law of human necessity,—a law which involves the fundamental principle of progress. The history of human development shows conclusively that mankind GREW into the recognition of the moral law, that through sympathy, or a desire for the welfare of others,—a character which had its root in maternal affection,—conscience and the moral sense were evolved.
While the moral law and the conscience may not be accounted as in any sense the result of man's ideas concerning the unknowable, neither can the errors and weaknesses developed in human nature be regarded as the result of religion. Although the sexual excesses which during three or four thousand years were practiced as sacred rites, and treated as part and parcel of religion in various parts of the world, have had the effect to stimulate and strengthen the animal nature in man, yet these rites may not be accounted as the primary cause of the supremacy of the lower nature over the higher faculties. On the contrary, the impulse which has been termed religion, with all the vagaries which its history presents, is to be regarded more as an effect than as a cause. The stage of a nation's development regulates its religion. Man creates his own gods; they are powerless to change him.
As written history records only those events in human experience which belong to a comparatively recent period of man's existence, and as the primitive conceptions of a Deity lie buried beneath ages of corruption, glimpses of the earlier faiths of mankind, as has already been stated, must be looked for in the traditions, monuments, and languages of extinct races.
In reviewing this matter we shall doubtless observe the fact that if the stage of a nation's growth is indicated by its religious conceptions, and if remnants of religious beliefs are everywhere present in the languages, traditions, and monuments of the past through a careful study of these subjects we may expect to gain a tolerably correct understanding not alone of the growth of the god-idea but of the stage of development reached by the nations which existed prior to the beginning of the historic age. We shall be enabled also to perceive whether or not the course of human development during the intervening ages has been continuous, or whether, for some cause hitherto unexplained, true progress throughout a portion of this time has been arrested, thus producing a backward movement, or degeneracy.
If we would unravel the mysteries involved in present religious faiths, we should begin not by attempting to analyze or explain any existing system or systems of belief and worship. Such a course is likely to end not only in confusion and in a subsequent denial of the existence of the religious nature in mankind, but is liable, also, to create an aversion for and a distrust of the entire subject of religious experience. In view of this fact it would appear to be not only useless but exceedingly unwise to spend one's time in attempting to gain a knowledge of this subject simply by studying the later developments in its history.
If we are really desirous of obtaining information regarding present religious phenomena, it is plain that we should adopt the scientific method and turn our attention to the remote past, where, by careful and systematic investigation, we are enabled to perceive the earliest conception of a creative force and the fundamental basis of all religious systems, from which may be traced the gradual development of the god-idea.
SEX THE FOUNDATION OF THE GOD-IDEA.
In the study of primitive religion, the analogy existing between the growth of the god-idea and the development of the human race, and especially of the two sex-principles, is everywhere clearly apparent.
"Religion is to be found alone with its justification and explanation in the relations of the sexes. There and therein only."(3)
3) Hargrave Jennings, Phallicism.
As the conception of a deity originated in sex, or in the creative agencies female and male which animate Nature, we may reasonably expect to find, in the history of the development of the two sex-principles and in the notions entertained concerning them throughout past ages, a tolerably correct account of the growth of the god-idea. We shall perceive that during an earlier age of human existence, not only were the reproductive powers throughout Nature, and especially in human beings and in animals, venerated as the Creator, but we shall find also that the prevailing ideas relative to the importance of either sex in the office of reproduction decided the sex of this universal creative force. We shall observe also that the ideas of a god have always corresponded with the current opinions regarding the importance of either sex in human society. In other words, so long as female power and influence were in the ascendency, the creative force was regarded as embodying the principles of the female nature; later, however, when woman's power waned, and the supremacy of man was gained, the god-idea began gradually to assume the male characters and attributes.
Through scientific research the fact has been observed that, for ages after life appeared on the earth, the male had no separate existence; that the two sex-principles, the sperm and the germ, were contained within one and the same individual. Through the processes of differentiation, however, these elements became detached, and with the separation of the male from the female, the reproductive functions were henceforth confided to two separate individuals.
As originally, throughout Nature, the female was the visible organic unit within whom was contained the exclusive creative power, and as throughout the earlier ages of life on the earth she comprehended the male, it is not perhaps singular that, even after the appearance of mankind on the earth, the greater importance of the mother element in human society should have been recognized; nor, as the power to bring forth coupled with perceptive wisdom originally constituted the Creator, that the god-idea should have been female instead of male.
From the facts to be observed in relation to this subject, it is altogether probable that for ages the generating principle throughout Nature was venerated as female; but with that increase of knowledge which was the result of observation and experience, juster or more correct ideas came to prevail, and subsequently the great fructifying energy throughout the universe came to be regarded as a dual indivisible force—female and male. This force, or agency, constituted one God, which, as woman's functions in those ages were accounted of more importance than those of man, was oftener worshipped under the form of a female figure.
Neith, Minerva, Athene, and Cybele, the most important deities of their respective countries, were adored as Perceptive Wisdom, or Light, while Ceres and others represented Fertility. With the incoming of male dominion and supremacy, however, we observe the desire to annul the importance of the female and to enthrone one all-powerful male god whose chief attributes were power and might.
Notwithstanding the efforts which during the historic period have been put forward to magnify the importance of the male both in human affairs and in the god-idea, still, no one, I think, can study the mythologies and traditions of the nations of antiquity without being impressed with the prominence given to the female element, and the deeper the study the stronger will this impression grow.
During a certain stage of human development, religion was but a recognition of and a reliance upon the vivifying or fructifying forces throughout Nature, and in the earlier ages of man's career, worship consisted for the most part in the celebration of festivals at stated seasons of the year, notably during seed-time and harvest, to commemorate the benefits derived from the grain field and vineyard.
Doubtless the first deified object was Gaia, the Earth. As within the bosom of the earth was supposed to reside the fructifying, life-giving power, and as from it were received all the bounties of life, it was female. It was the Universal Mother, and to her as to no other divinity worshipped by mankind, was offered a spontaneity of devotion and a willing acknowledgment of dependence. Thus far in the history of mankind no temples dedicated to an undefined and undefinable God had been raised. The children of Mother Earth met in the open air, without the precincts of any man-made shrine, and under the aerial canopy of heaven, acknowledged the bounties of the great Deity and their dependence upon her gifts. She was a beneficent and all-wise God, a tender and loving parent—a mother, who demanded no bleeding sacrifice to reconcile her to her children. The ceremonies observed at these festive seasons consisted for the most part in merry-making and in general thanksgiving, in which the gratitude of the worshippers found expression in song and dance, and in invocations to their Deity for a return or continuance of her gifts.
Subsequently, through the awe and reverence inspired by the mysteries involved in birth and life, the adoration of the creative principles in vegetable existence became supplemented by the worship of the creative functions in human beings and in animals. The earth, including the power inherent in it by which the continuity of existence is maintained, and by which new forms are continuously called into life, embodied the idea of God; and, as this inner force was regarded as inherent in matter, or as a manifestation of it, in process of time earth and the heavens, body and spirit, came to be worshipped under the form of a mother and her child, this figure being the highest expression of a Creator which the human mind was able to conceive. Not only did this emblem represent fertility, or the fecundating energies of Nature, but with the power to create were combined or correlated all the mental qualities and attributes of the two sexes. In fact the whole universe was contained in the Mother idea—the child, which was sometimes female, sometimes male, being a scion or offshoot from the eternal or universal unit.
Underlying all ancient mythologies may be observed the idea that the earth, from which all things proceed, is female. Even in the mythology of the Finns, Lapps, and Esths, Mother Earth is the divinity adored. Tylor calls attention to the same idea in the mythology of England,
"from the days when the Anglo-Saxon called upon the Earth, 'Hal wes thu folde fira modor' (Hail, thou Earth, men's mother), to the time when mediaeval Englishmen made a riddle of her asking 'Who is Adam's mother?' and poetry continued what mythology was letting fall, when Milton's Archangel promised Adam a life to last
'... till like ripe fruit thou drop
Into thy Mother's lap.' "(4)
4) Primitive Culture, vol. i., p. 295.
In the old religion the sky was the husband of the earth and the earth was mother of all the gods.(5) In the traditions of past ages the fact is clearly perceived that there was a time when the mother was not only the one recognized parent on earth, but that the female principle was worshipped as the more important creative force throughout Nature.
5) Max Muller, Origin and Growth of Religion, p. 279.
Doubtless the worship of the female energy prevailed under the matriarchal system, and was practised at a time when women were the recognized heads of families and when they were regarded as the more important factors in human society. The fact has been shown in a previous work that after women began to leave their homes at marriage, and after property, especially land, had fallen under the supervision and control of men, the latter, as they manipulated all the necessaries of life and the means of supplying them, began to regard themselves as superior beings, and later, to claim that as a factor in reproduction, or creation, the male was the more important. With this change the ideas of a Deity also began to undergo a modification. The dual principle necessary to creation, and which had hitherto been worshipped as an indivisible unity, began gradually to separate into its individual elements, the male representing spirit, the moving or forming force in the generative processes, the female being matter—the instrument through which spirit works. Spirit which is eternal had produced matter which is destructible. The fact will be observed that this doctrine prevails to a greater or less extent in the theologies of the present time.
A little observation and reflection will show us that during this change in the ideas relative to a creative principle, or God, descent and the rights of succession which had hitherto been reckoned through the mother were changed from the female to the male line, the father having in the meantime become the only recognized parent. In the Eumenides of Aeschylus, the plea of Orestes in extenuation of his crime is that he is not of kin to his mother. Euripides, also, puts into the mouth of Apollo the same physiological notion, that she who bears the child is only its nurse. The Hindoo Code of Menu, which, however, since its earliest conception, has undergone numberless mutilations to suit the purposes of the priests, declares that "the mother is but the field which brings forth the plant according to whatsoever seed is sown."
Although, through the accumulation of property in masses and the capture of women for wives, men had succeeded in gaining the ascendancy, and although the doctrine had been propounded that the father is the only parent, thereby reversing the established manner of reckoning descent, still, as we shall hereafter observe, thousands of years were required to eliminate the female element from the god-idea.
We must not lose sight of the fact that human society was first organized and held together by means of the gens, at the head of which was a woman. The several members of this organization were but parts of one body cemented together by the pure principle of maternity, the chief duty of these members being to defend and protect each other if needs be with their life blood. The fact has been observed, in an earlier work, that only through the gens was the organization of society possible. Without it mankind could have accomplished nothing toward its own advancement.
Thus, throughout the earlier ages of human existence, at a time when mankind lived nearer to Nature and before individual wealth and the stimulation of evil passions had engendered superstition, selfishness, and distrust, the maternal element constituted not only the binding and preserving principle in human society, but, together with the power to bring forth, constituted also the god-idea, which idea, as has already been observed, at a certain stage in the history of the race was portrayed by a female figure with a child in her arms.
From all sources of information at hand are to be derived evidences of the fact that the earliest religion of which we have any account was pure Nature-worship, that whatever at any given time might have been the object adored, whether it were the earth, a tree, water, or the sun, it was simply as an emblem of the great energizing agency in Nature. The moving or forming force in the universe constituted the god-idea. The figure of a mother with her child signified not only the power to bring forth, but Perceptive Wisdom, or Light, as well.
As through a study of Comparative Ethnology, or through an investigation into the customs, traditions, and mythoses of extant races in the various stages of development, have been discovered the beginnings of the religious idea and the mental qualities which among primitive races prompted worship, so, also, through extinct tongues and the symbolism used in religious rites and ceremonies, many of the processes have been unearthed whereby the original and beautiful conceptions of the Deity, and the worship inspired by the operations of Nature, and especially the creative functions in human beings gradually became obscured by the grossest ideas and the vilest practices. The symbols which appear in connection with early religious rites and ceremonies, and under which are veiled the conceptions of a still earlier and purer age, when compared with subsequently developed notions relative to the same objects, indicate plainly the change which has been wrought in the original ideas relative to the creative functions, and furnish an index to the direction which human development, or growth, has taken.
As the human race constructs its own gods, and as by the conceptions involved in the deities worshipped at any given time in the history of mankind we are able to form a correct estimate of the character, temperament, and aspirations of the worshippers, so the history of the gods of the race, as revealed to us through the means of symbols, monumental records, and the investigation of extinct tongues, proves that from a stage of Nature worship and a pure and rational conception of the creative forces in the universe, mankind, in course of time, degenerated into mere devotees of sensual pleasure. With the corruption of human nature and the decline of mental power which followed the supremacy of the animal instincts, the earlier abstract idea of God was gradually lost sight of, and man himself in the form of a potentate or ruler, together with the various emblems of virility, came to be worshipped as the Creator. From adorers of an abstract creative principle, mankind had lapsed into worshippers of the symbols under which this principle had been veiled.
Although at certain stages in the history of the human race the evils, which as a result of the supremacy of the ruder elements developed in mankind had befallen the race were lamented and bewailed, they could not be suppressed. Man had become a lost and ruined creature. The golden age had passed away.
TREE, PLANT, AND FRUIT WORSHIP.
When mankind first began to perceive the fact of an all-pervading agency throughout Nature, by or through which everything is produced, and when they began to speculate on the origin of life and the final cause and destiny of things, it is not in the least remarkable that various objects and elements, such as fire, air, water, trees, etc., should in their turn have been venerated as in some special manner embodying the divine essence. Neither is it surprising although this universal agency was regarded as one, or as a dual entity, they should have recognized its manifold expressions or manifestations.
To primitive man, the visible sources whence proceeded his daily sustenance doubtless constituted the first objects of his regard and adoration. Hence, in addition to the homage paid to the earth, in due course of time would be added the worship of trees, upon which the early race was directly dependent for food. At a time when the art of agriculture had not been attained, all such trees as yielded their fruit for the support of the human race, and which afforded to mankind pleasant beverages or cooling shade, would come to be regarded as embodying the universal beneficent principle—the great creating and preserving agency of Nature, and therefore as proper objects of veneration.
According to the Phoenician theogony, "the first gods which were worshipped by oblations and sacrifices were the fruits of the earth, on which they and their descendants lived as their forefathers had done."
Although, after the art of agriculture had been developed, mankind was gradually relieved from its past dependence on the tree as a means of support, it nevertheless continued to be regarded with veneration as an emblem of creative power or of productive energy.
Among the traditions and monuments of nearly every country of the globe are to be found traces of a sacred tree—a Tree of Life. In various countries there appear two traditional trees, the one typical of the continuation of physical life, the other representing spiritual life, or the life of the soul. After the age of pure Nature-worship had passed, however, and serpent, fire, and phallic faiths had been introduced, the original signification of the tree, like that of all other religious emblems, became considerably changed. Through its energies, or life-giving properties, existence had long been maintained, and for this reason, as has already been observed, it became an object of veneration; but, after the reproductive power in man had risen to the dignity of a supreme God, the tree, to the masses of the people, became a symbol of the physical, life-giving energy in mortals and in animals. In other words, it became a phallic emblem representing the continuation of existence, or the power to reproduce or continue life on the earth. As a religious symbol it became the traditional Tree of Life.
The tree, like nearly every other object in nature, was and still is, in various parts of the world, either female or male, and all ideas connected with it are sacred and closely interwoven with sex.
The extent to which trees have been venerated in past ages seems to be little understood, and there are doubtless few persons, at the present time, who would willingly believe that all along the religious stream, from its source to its latest developed branches, are to be observed traces of this ancient worship, which, in its earliest stages, was simply a recognition of Nature's bounties.
Barlow, in his work on Symbolism, says that "the most generally received symbol of life is a tree—as also the most appropriate."
Again the same writer observes: "Besides the monumental evidence thus furnished of a sacred tree, or Tree of Life, there is an historical and traditional evidence of the same thing, found in the early literature of various nations, in the customs, and popular usages."(6) As tree- and sun-worship, or the adoration of Nature's processes, finally became interwoven with phallic faiths, its history can be understood only after these later developments in the religious stream have been examined, or after the true significance of the serpent as a religious emblem, and the various ideas connected with the traditional Tree of Life, have been exposed.
6) Essays on Symbolism, p. 84.
The palm, the pine, the oak, the banian, or bo, and many other species of trees, have, at different times, and by various nations, been invested with divine honors; but, in oriental countries, by far the most sacred among them is the Ficus Religiosa, or the holy bo tree of India. Something of the true significance of the traditional Tree of Life may be observed in the ideas connected with the worship of this emblem. The fig, when planted with the palm, as it frequently is in the East, near temples and holy shrines, is regarded as a peculiarly sacred object. When entwining the palm, which is male, it is always female; from their embrace Kalpia, or passion, is developed. This union causes the continuation of existence and the "revolutions of time." The whole constitutes the Tree of Life.
In Ceylon, there stands at the present time a tree which we are told is still worshipped by every follower of Buddha. It is a sacred bo, or Ficus Religiosa, which stands adjacent to an ancient holy shrine known as the Brazen Monastery, now in ruins. Of this tree Forlong remarks:
"Though now amidst ruins and wild forests, and although having stood thus in solitary desolation for some 1500 years, yet there it still grows, and is worshipped and deeply revered by more millions of our race than any other god, prophet, or idol, which the world has ever seen."(7)
7) Rivers of Life, vol. i., p. 35.
This tree is sacred to Sakyu Mooni, is 2200 years old, and is said to be a slip from a tree planted by Bood Gaya, one of the three former Buddhas who, like Sakyu Mooni, visited Ceylon. Under the parent of this tree the great prophet reposed after he had attained perfect rest, or after he had overcome the flesh and become Buddha. It was under a bo tree that Mai, Queen of Heaven, brought him forth, and, in fact, very many of the most important incidents of his life are closely connected with this sacred emblem.
In an allusion to the bo tree of Ceylon, a slip of which is said to have been carried from India to that island by a certain priestess in the year 307 B.C., Forlong observes:
"This wonderful idol has furnished shoots to half Asia, and every shoot is trained as much as possible like the parent, and like it, also, enclosed and tended. Men watch and listen for signs and sounds from this holy tree just as the priests of Dodona did beneath their rustling oaks, and, as many people, even of these somewhat sceptical days, still do, beneath the pulpits of their pope, priest, or other oracle."(8)
8) Rivers of Life, vol. i., p, 36.
The sacred Ficus is worshipped in India and in many of the Polynesian islands.
Regarding the palm, Inman assures us that it is emblematical of the active male energy, or the continuation of existence.(9)
9) Ancient Faiths Embodied in Ancient Names, vol. ii., p. 448.
Within the legends underlying the Jewish religion, it will be remembered that the tree appears mysteriously connected with the beginning of life and is interwoven with the first ideas of human action and experience. The literal sense, however, of the allegory in Genesis concerning the woman, the tree, and the serpent, and its meaning as generally accepted by laymen and the uneducated among the priesthood, has little in common with its true significance as understood by the initiated.
In Vedic times, the home tree was worshipped as a god, and to the exhilarating properties in its juice was ascribed that subtle quality which was regarded as the life-giving, or creative, energy supposed to reside in heat, and which was closely connected with passion or procreative energy. This quality was their Bacchus, Dionysos, or god-idea—the creator not alone of physical existence, but of good and evil as well. It was the Destroyer, yet the Regenerator, of life.
Of the Zoroastrian home, or sacred tree, which by the Persians was worshipped for thousands of years, Layard remarks: "The plant or its product was called the mystical body of God, the living water or food of eternal life, when duly consecrated and administered according to Zoroastrian rites." It has been suggested, and not without reason, that to this idea of the ancients, respecting the sacred character of the properties of the home juice, may be traced the "origin of the celebration of Jewish holy or paschal suppers and other eucharistic rites."
Although by the ancients water was sometimes regarded as the original principle, later, wine, or the intoxicating quality within it, came to constitute the god-idea. It was spirit, while water was matter; hence, in the sacraments, water and wine were commingled, wine representing the essence or blood of God; water, at the same time, standing for the people. Cyprian, the bishop martyr, while contending for the use of wine in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, makes use of the following argument:
"The Holy Spirit also is not silent in the Psalms on the sacrament of this thing, when He makes mention of the Lord's Cup, and says 'Thy intoxicating cup how excellent it is!' Now the cup which intoxicates is assuredly mingled with wine, for water cannot intoxicate anybody. And the Cup of the Lord in such wise inebriates, as Noe also was intoxicated drinking wine in Genesis. ... For because Christ bore us all, in that he also bore our sins, we see that in the water is understood the people, but in the wine is showed the blood of Christ.... Thus, therefore, in consecrating the Cup of the Lord, water alone cannot be offered, even as wine alone cannot be offered. For if anyone offer wine only, the blood of Christ is dissociated from us; but if the water be alone, the people are dissociated from Christ."(10)
10) Epistles of Cyprian, vol. i., pp. 215-217.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, at which wine is mysteriously converted into the essence of Deity, or into the blood of Christ, is without doubt a relic of the idea once entertained regarding the homa tree. Certain writers entertain the opinion that from the use of the sacred homa juice have arisen various religious practices and rites, such for instance as offering oblations to the gods, anointing holy stones, and pouring wine on sacred hills, also the custom of pledging oaths over glasses of wine.
The May pole, a decidedly phallic emblem, whose festivals until a very recent time were celebrated in England by the old as well as the young, was usually if not always sprinkled with wine. From the accounts which we have of this sacred emblem and its festival, it seems that no royal edict nor priestly denunciation was sufficient to expel it from the country.
According to Dr. Stevenson, the festival of Holi or the worship of Holika Devata, in the island of Ceylon, "has a close resemblance to the English festival of the May-pole, which originated in a religious ceremony or festival of the Cushites (called Phoenicians) who anciently occupied Western Europe."(11)
11) Quoted by Baldwin, Prehistoric Nations, p. 223.
The ash is the Scandinavian Tree of Life, and, like the sacred trees of all nations, is emblematical of the continuation of existence. This tree has a triple root, which peculiarity doubtless accounts for its sacred character. It is both female and male, and is said to be regarded as a "sort of Logos or Wisdom." It is the first emanation from the Deity, and yet a Trinity in Unity. To insult or injure this tree was sacrilege, to cut it down was an offense punishable with death.
In the old Egyptian and Zoroastrian story, appear the descriptions of two Trees of Life, also a Tree of Knowledge. In the accounts given of these trees, the Ficus, the female Tree of Life, represents the life of the soul, while the palm, the male Tree of Life, is that which gives physical life, which also is the true significance of the word "lord." When, however, either of these trees stood alone, or unaccompanied by its counterpart, by it both of the creative principles were understood. By these ideas is suggested the thought which among a certain school of psychologists of the present century seems to be gaining ground, namely: that man is a dual entity, or, in other words, that he has a subjective mind and an objective self, which so long as this life endures must co-operate or work together.
In the following descriptions of Egyptian emblems, will be perceived some of the changes which finally took place relative to the idea of sex in the god-idea.
In the museum of Egyptian antiquities in Berlin is a sepulchral tablet representing the Tree of Life. This emblem figures the trunk of a tree, from the top of which emerges the bust of a woman—Netpe. She is the goddess of heavenly existence, and is administering to the deceased the water and the bread of life, the latter of which is represented by a substance in the form of cakes or rolls. The time at which this tablet was found is not known, but it is supposed to belong to the period of the XIXth dynasty, or about the time of Rameses II., 1400 years B.C.
There is also in the Berlin museum another representation of the Egyptian Tree of Life, in which the trunk has given place to the entire body of a woman. This, also, is Netpe, who is still spiritual wisdom or the maternal principle. We are informed by Forlong that Diana was worshipped by the Amazons under a sacred tree.(12) From this symbol the tree, which grew first into the figure of a divine woman, and later assumed the form of a divine man, arose the emblem of the cross.
12) Rivers of Life, vol. i., p. 70.
On the Nineveh tablets is pictured a Tree of Life which is surrounded by winged spirits, bearing in their hands the pine cone, a symbol indicating life, and which is said to have the same significance as the crux-ansata, or cross, among the Egyptians.
In later ages, the Tree of Life, i. e., the divine man, or cross, or both together, furnish immortal food to those who lay hold upon them, exactly in the same manner as did Netpe, the goddess of wisdom, or spiritual life, in former times. According to the testimony of Barlow, this is the subject "most frequently symbolized on early Christian sepulchral tablets and monuments."(13) Christ's body was the "bread of life," and his blood was the "wine from the Tree of Life," of which to partake was life eternal. The cross, as in earlier religions, represented completeness of life. The jambu tree, the Buddhist god-tree, is in the shape of a cross.(14)
13) Essays on Symbolism, p. 74.
14) Wilford, Asiatic Researches.
Among the Kelti a tall oak was not only a symbol of the Deity, but it was Jupiter himself, while the earth from which it sprang was the Great Mother. Throughout Europe, in all ages, the oak has received divine honors. The fact that under its branches Jew, Pagan, and Christian alike swore their most solemn oaths, shows that its veneration was not confined to any particular nation or locality.
The sacredness of the oak among the Druids is well attested by all writers who have dealt with this interesting people. In Rome its branches formed the badge of victory worn by conquering heroes, this emblem being the highest mark of distinction which could be conferred upon them.
Forlong assures us that the oak was even more worshipped at the West than was the sacred Ficus at the East. Like it, the wood of the oak must be used
"to call down the sacred fire from Heaven and gladden in the yule (Suiel or Seul) log of Christmas-tide even Christian fires, as well as annually renew with fire direct from Ba-al, on Beltine day, the sacred flame on every public and private hearth, and this from the temples of Meroe on the Nile, to the farthest icy forests and mountains of the Sklavonian."(15)
15) Faiths of Man in All Lands, vol. i., p. 68.
Among the Druids, the mistletoe was also sacred especially when entwining the oak. Together they represented the Tree of Life, or the two generating agencies throughout Nature. Of the species of it which grows on the oak, Borlaise says that they deified the mistletoe and were not to look upon it but in the most devout and reverential manner: "When the end of the year approached, they marched with great solemnity to gather the mistletoe of the oak in order to present it to Jupiter, inviting all the world to assist in the ceremony."(16)
According to the Latin writer Pliny, the "Druids have nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree on which it grows, provided it be an oak." This plant, which is called All Heal, although sought after with the greatest religious ardor, is seldom found, but should the people who go forth at Christmas time in large numbers succeed in finding it they immediately set about preparing feasts under the tree upon which it grows; at the same time, in the most solemn manner, two white bulls are brought forth to be sacrificed. After the feast has been prepared and the sacrifice made ready, the priest ascends the tree and with a golden pruning-knife cuts the sacred branches of the mistletoe, dropping them into a white cloth prepared for the occasion. The bulls are then sacrificed and a prayer offered that "God would render his own gift prosperous to those on whom he has bestowed it." They believed that administered in a potion it would impart fecundity to any barren animal, and that it was a remedy against all kinds of poison. The branches of the mistletoe were then distributed among the faithful, each cherishing the token as the most sacred emblem of his faith. It is thought that the Christmas tree is a remnant of this custom.
Although the Christbaum of the Germans, the Yggdrasill of the Scandinavians, and the Christmas tree of the English speaking nations are still regarded as belonging exclusively to Christianity, their birthplace was the far East, and their origin long anterior to our present era. This subject will be referred to later in these pages. The palm, which in course of time became the most sacred tree of Egypt, is said to have put forth a shoot every month during the year. At Christmas tide, or at the winter solstice, a branch from this tree was used as a symbol of the renewal of time or of the birth of the New Year.
On the Zodiac of Dendera, preserved in the National Library at Paris, are two trees, the one representing the East, or India and China, the other, the West, or Egypt. The former of these trees is putting forth a pair of leaves and is topped by the emblems of Siva, emblems which indicate the fructifying powers of Nature, whilst the Egyptian sacred tree, which is surmounted by the ostrich plume, the emblem of truth, is indicative of Light, Intelligence, or the life of the soul. In a discourse delivered by Dr. Stukeley in 1760, attention was directed to the grove of Abraham as "that famous oak grove of Beersheba, planted by the illustrious prophet and first Druid—Abraham; and from whom our celebrated British Druids came, who were of the same patriarchal reformed religion, and brought the use of sacred groves to Britain."(17)
17) Barlow, Symbolism, p. 98.
The fact has been ascertained that in Arabia, in very ancient times, there was a goddess named Azra who was worshipped under the form of a tree called Samurch, and that in Yemen tree-worship still prevails. To the date is ascribed divine honors. This tree is said to have its regular priests, services, rites, and festivals, and is as zealously worshipped as are the gods of any other country. We are not informed as to whether the Jewish Tree of Life was borrowed from the Chaldeans or the Egyptians, but, as the significance is the same in all countries, it is of little consequence which furnished a copy for the writer in Genesis.
In Dr. Inman's Ancient Faiths, is a drawing from the original, by Colonel Coombs, of the "Temptation," or of the ancient tree-and-serpent myth in Genesis. This drawing, in which it is observed that the Jewish idea of woman as tempter is reversed, was copied from the inner walls of a cave in Southern India. The picture is said to be a faithful representation of the version of the story as accepted in the East.
Of the myrtle, Payne Knight says that it "was a symbol both of Venus and Neptune, the male and female personifications of the productive powers of the waters, which appear to have been occasionally employed in the same sense as the fig and fig leaf."
The same writer refers to the fact that instead of beads, wreaths of foliage, generally of laurel, olive, myrtle, ivy, or oak, appear upon coins; sometimes encircling the symbolical figures, and sometimes as chaplets on their heads. According to Strabo, each of these is sacred to some particular personification of the Deity, and "significant of some particular attribute, and in general, all evergreens were Dionysiac plants, that is, symbols of the generative power, signifying perpetuity of youth and vigor." The crowns of laurel, olive, etc., with which the victors in the Roman triumphs and Grecian games were honored, were emblems of immortality, and not merely transitory marks of occasional distinction.(18)
18) Payne Knight, Symbolism of Ancient Art. We are informed that this
book was never sold, but only given away. Although a copy of it was
formerly in the British Museum, care was taken by the trustees to keep
it out of the catalogues.
The tree and serpent, according to Ferguson, are symbolized in all religious systems which the world has ever known. The two together are typical of the processes of reproduction or generation. They also symbolize good and evil and the cause which underlies the decline of virtue.
Among the numberless fruits which from time to time have been regarded as divine emblems, the principal are perhaps the fig, the pomegranate, the mandrake, the almond, and the olive. The peculiarly sacred character which we find attached to the fig ceases to be a mystery so soon as we remember that the organs of generation, male and female, had, in process of time, come to be objects of worship and that the fig was the emblem of the latter.
A basket of this fruit is said to have been the most acceptable offering to the god Bacchus, and therefore, by his devotees, was regarded as the most sacred symbol. The favorite material for phallic devices was the wood of the sacred fig, for it was by rubbing together pieces of it that holy fire was supposed to be drawn from heaven. By holy fire, however, was meant not so much the natural visible element which was kindled, as that subtle substance contained in fire or heat which was supposed to contain the life principle, and which was sent in response to the cravings of pious devotees for procreative energy, which blessing, among various peoples, notably the Jews, was indicative of special divine favor.
By pagans, Jews, and Christians, the pomegranate has long been regarded as a sacred emblem. It is a symbol of reproductive energy. Representations of it were embroidered on the Ephod, and Solomon's Temple is reported as having been literally covered with decorations, in which, among the devices noticed, this particular fruit appears the most conspicuous. Its significance, as revealed by Inman and other writers, is too gross to be set forth in these pages.
Among the most sacred plants or flowers were the lotus and the fleur de lis, both of which were venerated because of some real or fancied organic sexual peculiarity. The lotus is adored as the female principle throughout Nature, or as the "womb of all creation," and is sacred throughout oriental countries. It is said to be androgynous or hermaphrodite—hence its peculiarly sacred character.
It has long been thought that this lily is produced without the aid of the male pollen, hence it would seem to be an appropriate emblem for that ancient sect which worshipped the female as the more important creative energy.
Of the lotus, Inman remarks: "Amongst fourteen kinds of food and flowers presented to the Sanskrit God Anata, the lotus only is indispensable." This emblem, as we have seen, was the symbol of the Great Mother, and we are assured that it was "little less sacred than the Queen of Heaven herself."
Regarding the lotus and its universal significance as a religious emblem, Payne Knight says:
"The lotus is the Nelumbo of Linnaeus. This plant grows in the water, and amongst its broad leaves puts forth a flower, in the center of which is formed the seed vessel, shaped like a bell or inverted cone, and punctured on the top with little cavities or cells, in which the seeds grow. The orifices of these cells being too small to let the seeds drop out when ripe, they shoot forth into new plants, in the places where they were formed, the bulb of the vessel serving as a matrix to nourish them until they acquire such a degree of magnitude as to burst it open and release themselves, after which, like other aquatic weeds, they take root wherever the current deposits them. This plant, therefore, being thus productive of itself, and vegetating from its own matrix, without being fostered in the earth, was naturally adopted as the symbol of the productive power of the waters, upon which the creative spirit of the Creator operated in giving life and vegetation to matter. We accordingly find it employed in every part of the Northern hemisphere, where the symbolical religion improperly called idolatry does or did prevail. The sacred images of the Tartars, Japanese, and Indians are almost all placed upon it, of which numerous instances occur in the publication of Kaempfer, Sonnerat, etc: The Brama of India is represented sitting upon a lotus throne, and the figures upon the Isaic table hold the stem of this plant, surmounted by the seed vessel in one hand, and the cross representing the male organs in the other: thus signifying the universal power, both active and passive, attributed to that goddess."(19)
19) Symbolism of Ancient Art.
The lotus is the most sacred and the most significant symbol connected with the sacred mysteries of the East. Upon this subject, Maurice observes that there is no plant which has received such a degree of honor as has the lotus. It was the consecrated symbol of the Great Mother who had brought forth the fecundative energies, female and male. Not only throughout the Northern hemisphere was it everywhere held in profound veneration, but among the modern Egyptians it is still worshipped as symbolical of the Great First Cause. The lotus was the emblem venerated in the solemn celebration of the Mysteries of Eleusis in Greece and the Phiditia in Carthage.
In referring to the degree of homage paid to the lotus by the ancients, Higgins says: "And we shall find in the sequel that it still continues to receive the respect, if not the adoration, of a great part of the Christian world, unconscious, perhaps, of the original reason of their conduct." It is a significant fact that in nearly all the sacred paintings of the Christians in the galleries throughout Europe, especially those of the Annunciation, a lily is always to be observed. In later ages as the original significance of the lotus was lost, any lily came to be substituted.