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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Masculine Cross, by Anonymous

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Title: The Masculine Cross

A History of Ancient and Modern Crosses and Their Connection with the Mysteries of Sex Worship; Also an Account of the Kindred Phases of Phallic Faiths and Practices

Author: Anonymous

Release Date: April 10, 2012 [eBook #39414]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1



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The Masculine Cross.



God Indra Nailed to a Cross.   Buddhist Cross.
Cross Common on Ancient Assyrian Monuments.   Ancient Heathen,—Mexican Cross.




Masculine Cross



Ancient and Modern Crosses


Mysteries of Sex Worship


An Account of the Kindred Phases


Phallic Faiths and Practices.









The Cross 1
The Cross (Continued) 23
The Doctrine of a Sacred Triad 42
The Doctrine of a Sacred Triad (Continued) 63
The Golden Calf of Aaron 79
Circumcision 91
Androgynous Deities, Sex Worship, &c. 100





In the following pages certain things supposed to be of comparatively modern origin have been traced back to the remotest historic ages of the world; as a consequence, it follows that the modern symbolical meaning given to such things is sometimes only one acquired in subsequent times, and not that exactly which was originally intended,—it must not be supposed, therefore, that the interpretation belonging to the epoch in which we are first enabled to trace a definite meaning is to be conclusively regarded as that which gave birth to the form of the symbol. The original may have been—probably was—very different to what came after; the starting point may have been simplicity and purity, whilst the developments of after years were degrading and vicious. Particularly so was this the case in the Lingam worship of the vast empire of India; originally the adoration of an Almighty Creator of all things, it became, in time, the worship of the regenerative powers of material nature, and then the mere indulgence in the debased passions of an abandoned and voluptuous nature.

With regard to the symbol of the Cross, it may be repugnant to the feelings of some to be told that their recognition of its purely Christian origin is a mistake, and that it was as common in Pagan as in more advanced times; they may find consolation, however, in the fact that its real beginning was further back still in the world’s history, and that with Paganism it was, as it had been with Christianity, simply an adopted favourite.

Our story is taken up in the middle epoch of the history, and shews the relationship of the things we deal with to prevailing phallic faiths and practices.



[Pg 1]




Universal prevalence of the Cross—Mistakes—The Cross not of Christian Origin—Christian Veneration of the Cross—The Roman Ritual—The Cross equally honoured by the Gentile and Christian Worlds—Druidical Crosses—The Copt Oak of Charnwood Forest—Assyrian Crosses in British Museum—Pectoral Crosses—Egyptian Crosses—Greek Cross—St. Andrew’s Cross—Planetary Signs and Crosses—Monogram of Christ at Serapis—Cross in India—Pagodas in form of Crosses—Mariette Bey’s Discovery—Buddhist and Roman Crosses—Chinese Crosses—Kampschatkan Crosses—American Crosses—Cross among the Red Indians—The Royal Commentaries of Peru—Mexican Ideas relative to the Cross—The Spaniards in America—Sign of the Cross—Cross as an Amulet—Hot-cross Buns—Tertullian on the Use of the Cross.


The universal prevalence of the cross as an ornament and symbol during the last eighteen centuries in the Christian church has led to some great, if not grave, mistakes. It has been supposed, and for various obvious reasons very naturally so, to be of exclusively Christian origin, and to represent materially no more than the instrument by which the founder of that religion was put to death; and, spiritually or symbolically, faith in the sacrificial atoning work he then completed. There are not a few people about who, having become imbued with this idea, rush to the hasty conclusion that wherever the cross is found, and upon whatever monuments, it indicates a connection with Christianity, and is therefore of comparatively modern origin. History, in consequence, becomes a strange and unfathomable mystery, especially when it belongs to kingdoms of well-known great antiquity, amongst whose symbols or ornaments the cross[Pg 2] is plentiful, and the mind finds itself involved in a confusion from which it cannot readily extricate itself. Never was there a greater blunder perpetrated, or a more ignorant one, than the notion of the figure of the cross owing its origin to the instrument of Christ’s death, and the Christian who finds comfort in pressing it to his lips in the hour of devotion or of trouble must be reminded that the ancient Egyptian did a similar thing.

The fact is, there is great similarity between the cross worship, or veneration if you please, of ancient and modern times. Christians, we know, are apt to repudiate the charge of rendering worship to this symbol, but it is clear from what is printed in some of their books of devotion that some sort of worship is actually rendered, though disguised under other names. As to the veneration thus offered being right or wrong, we here say nothing; the fact only concerns us so far as it relates to the subject we have in hand.

If we open the Tablet (Roman Catholic newspaper) for the 26th of November, 1853, we read:—“Those of our readers who have visited Rome will, doubtless, have remarked, at the foot of the stairs which descend from the square of the Capitol to the square of the Campo Vaccino, under the flight of steps in front of the Church of St. Joseph, and over the door of the Mamertine prison, a very ancient wooden crucifix, before which lamps and wax tapers are constantly burning, and surrounded on all sides with exvotos and testimonies of public thanksgiving. No image of the crucified Saviour is invested with greater veneration.... The worship yielded to the holy crucifix of Campo Vaccino is universal at Rome, and is transmitted from generation to generation. The fathers teach it to the children, and in all the misfortunes and all the trials of life the first idea is almost always to have recourse to the holy crucifix, the object of such general veneration, and the source of so many favours. It is, above all,[Pg 3] in sickness that the succour of the holy image is invoked with more confidence and more eagerness.... There are few families in Rome who have not to thank the holy crucifix for some favour and some benefit.... In the interval of the sermons and other public exercises of devotion the holy crucifix, exposed on the high altar in the midst of floods of light, saw incessantly prostrated before it a crowd of adorers and suppliants.... As soon as the holy image of the Saviour had appeared on the Forum, the Holy Father advanced on the exterior flight of steps of the church to receive it, and when the shrine had arrived at the base of the stairs of the Church of San Luca, at some paces from the flight of steps on which the Holy Father stood, in rochet, stole, and pallium of red velvet, he bowed before the holy crucifix and venerated it devoutly.”

In harmony with this, the Missal supplies us with prayers and hymns in the service for Good Friday, addressed directly to the cross.

“We adore Thy cross, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Thy holy resurrection; for by the wood of the cross the whole world is filled with joy.”

“O faithful cross, O noblest tree,
In all our woods there is none like thee.
No earthly groves, no shady bowers
Produce such leaves, such fruit, such flowers.
Sweet are the nails and sweet the wood,
Which bore a weight so sweet and good.”

“O lovely tree, whose branches bore
The royal purple of His gore,
How glorious does thy body shine,
Supporting members so divine.
Hail, cross! our hope, on thee we call
Who keep this paschal festival;
Grant to the just increase of grace,
And every sinner’s guilt efface.”

[Pg 4]There is something unusually remarkable about the popularity of the cross; we can hardly point to a time when, or to a part of the world where, it has not been in favour. It has entered into the constitution of religions of the most opposite character, has been transmitted from one to another, and though originally belonging to the rudest form of pagan idolatry, is now esteemed highly by those who profess to have adopted the loftiest ideal of civilised worship. After mentioning the fact of its popularity in the pagan world, Mr. Maurice remarks: “Let not the piety of the Catholic Christian be offended at the preceding assertion, that the cross was one of the most usual symbols among the hieroglyphics of Egypt and India. Equally honoured in the Gentile and the Christian world, this emblem of universal nature—of that world to whose four quarters its diverging radii pointed—decorated the hands of most of the sculptured images in the former country, and in the latter stamped its form upon the most majestic shrines of their deities.”

Here we may profitably glance at a few different parts of the world and at some of the past ages, in tracing out the possible origin and meaning of this symbol. In Britain there have been found monuments so ancient and with such surroundings that but for certain peculiar marks they would unhesitatingly have been put down as Druidical. They are marked with the cross, and in the estimation of some, as we have already pointed out, that is regarded as conclusive proof of Christian origin. The inference, however, is a false one, the monuments are too old for Christianity, and the cruciform etchings upon them belong to another religious system altogether. It is known that the Druids consecrated the sacred oak by cutting it into the shape of a cross, and so necessary was it regarded to have it in this form, that if the lateral branches were not large enough to construct the figure properly, two others were fixed as arms on either side of the[Pg 5] trunk. The cross having been thus constructed, the Arch-Druid ascended and wrote the name of the Deity upon the trunk at the place of intersection, and on the extremities of the arms.

The peculiar interest attached to this idol lies in the fact that it is described by the best authorities as the Gallic or Celtic Tau. “The Tau,” says Davies in his Celtic Researches, “was the symbol of the Druidical Jupiter. It consisted of a huge grand oak deprived of all its branches, except only two large ones which, though cut off and separated, were suspended from the top of its trunk-like suspended arms.” The idol, say others, was in reality a cross, the same in form as the linga.

A few years ago, near the hill of Bardon, in the middle of Charnwood forest, in the county of Leicester, there grew and perhaps still grows, a very old tree called the Copt Oak. This tree, there is reason to believe, was more than two thousand years old, and once formed a Celtic Tau. Forty years ago, a writer who knew the tree well, said that its condition then suggested very distinctly the possibility of the truthfulness of the story. It was described as a vast tree, then reduced to a mere shell between two and three inches only in thickness, perforated by several openings, and alive only in about one-fourth of the shell; bearing small branches, but such as could not have grown when the tree was entire; then it must have had branches of a size not less than an oak of ordinary dimensions. This was evident from one of the openings in the upper part of the shell of the trunk, exactly such as a decayed branch would produce. The tree was evidently of gigantic size in its earlier days, as shown by its measurement at the date we are speaking of. The remains of the trunk were twenty feet high, the height proper for the Tau, and the circumference at the ground was twenty-four feet; at the height of ten feet the girth was twenty, giving a diameter of nearly seven feet. This tree, we have said, was called the Copt[Pg 6] Oak; the epithet copt, or copped, may be derived from the Celtic cop—a head, and evidently indicates that the tree had been headed and reduced to the state of a bare trunk. The idol, as already described, was formed by cutting away the branches of the tree, which was always a large one, and affixing a beam, forming a cross with the bare trunk.[1]

From time immemorial the Copt Oak has borne a celebrity that bears out the tradition of its ancient sacredness. Potter, the historian of the forest of Charnwood, writes that it was one of the three places at which Swanimotes were held, always in the open air, for the regulation of rights and claims on the forest; and persons have been known even in late times to have attended such motes. “At this spot,” he says, “it may be under this tree, Edric the Forester is said to have harangued his forces against the Norman invasion; and here too, in the Parliamentary troubles of 1642, the Earl of Stamford assembled the trained bands of the district.” “These facts,” says Dudley, “mark the Copt Oak extraordinary, and show, that notwithstanding the lapse of two thousand years, the trunk was at that distant period a sacred structure, a Celtic idol; and that it is illustrative of antiquarian records.”

Still further back in history than the foregoing are we able to trace this singular figure. If we visit the Assyrian galleries of the British Museum we shall observe life-size effigies in stone of the kings Samsi-Rammanu, B.C. 825, and Assur-Nazir-Pal, B.C. 880; suspended from the necks of these monarchs and resting upon their breasts are prominently sculptured Maltese crosses about three inches in length and width; they are in a good state of preservation, and will amply repay anyone for the trouble of an inspection, should they be desirous of pursuing this enquiry. In the Roman Catholic dictionaries we find these ornaments [Pg 7]described as pectoral crosses—crosses of precious metal worn at the breast by bishops and abbots as a mark of their office, and sometimes also by canons, etc., who have obtained the privilege from Rome. It is stated these pectorals were not generally used by the Roman ecclesiastics till the middle of the sixteenth century; however that may be, it is a fact, as proved by the Assyrian sculptures, that they are nearly, if not more than, three thousand years old, and not the least interesting feature distinguishing them is their perfect similarity of design. It is strange that we moderns—the disciples of Christ—should have had supplied to us at that remote period the pattern of an ornament or symbol which we are accustomed to regard as emblematic of essential features of our religion, but it is true.

Look across now to Egypt and we find monuments and tombs literally bedizened with the cross, and that too in a variety of shapes. Long, long before Christ, the Ibis was represented with human hands and feet, holding the staff of Isis in one hand, and a globe and cross in the other. Here we are in one of the most ancient kingdoms of the world—a kingdom so ancient that its years are lost in obscurity—yet still the cross is found. Whatever it may have represented in other countries, and whatever may be its meaning here, from the positions in which it is found and from its constant association with ecclesiastical personages and offices, it was evidently one of the most sacred of their symbols. Two forms, among others, are common, one a simple cross of four limbs of equal length, the other that shaped like the letter X; the first is generally known as the Greek cross, the second as that of St. Andrew, both however being of the same form and owing their different appearance only to the position in which they are placed.

It is well known, probably, to most of our readers that the astronomical signs of certain of the planets consist of crosses,[Pg 8] crescents, circles, and in ancient Egypt these were precisely the same as those now used. Saturn was represented by a cross surmounting a ram’s horn, Jupiter by a cross beneath a horn, Venus by a cross beneath a circle, the Earth by a cross within a circle, Mercury by a cross surmounted by a circle and crescent, and Mars by a cross above a circle. These may still be seen in almanacs, and on the large coloured bottles in the windows of the druggist. In the hands of Isis, Osiris, and Hermes, corresponding with the Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury of the Greeks, are also found the above signs.

When the temple of Serapis, at Alexandria, was destroyed by one of the Christian emperors, it is related by several historians, Socrates and Sozomen, for instance, that beneath the foundation was discovered the monogram of Christ; and that considerable disputing arose in consequence thereof, the Gentiles endeavouring to use it for their own purposes, and the Christians insisting that the cross, being uneasy beneath the weight or dominion of the temple, overthrew it.

If we turn to India we find the cross almost as common as in Egypt and Europe, and not the least interesting feature of the matter is the curious fact that a number of the pagodas are actually cruciform in structure. Jagannath is the name of one of the mouths of the Ganges, upon which was built the great pagoda where the Great Brahmin or High Priest resided. We were told years ago, by travellers, that the form of the choir or interior was similar in proportion to all the others, which were built upon the same model, in the form of a cross. The pagoda at Benares, also, was in the figure of a cross, having its arms equal. After the above, in importance, was the pagoda at Muttra; this likewise was cruciform. One of these temples, that at Chillambrum on the Coromandel coast, is said to be four miles in circumference. Here there are seven lofty walls one[Pg 9] within the other round the central quadrangle, and as many pyramidal gateways in the middle of each side which form the limbs of a vast cross, consisting altogether of twenty-eight pyramids. There are, therefore, fourteen in a row, which extend more than a mile in one continuous line.

What has been called, and perhaps justly so, the oldest religious monument in the world was discovered a few years ago by Mariette Bey, near the Great Pyramid. For ages it had lain there, buried in the sand—how many we cannot tell, but very many we know; enough to carry us back to a very remote past. And this, too, like the Indian temples, was in the shape of a cross. Renan visited it in 1865, and though he found it in many particulars different from those known elsewhere, he described the interior, which much recalled the chamber of the Great Pyramid, as in the form of T, the principle aisle being divided in three rows, the transverse aisle in two.

Mr. Fergusson, the architect, also saw it, and, while admiring its simple and chaste grandeur of style, with some astonishment described the form of the principal chamber as that of a CROSS. And this was the plan of both tomb and temple in the earliest ages, testifying to the great veneration paid to this symbol.

There is a remarkable resemblance between the Buddhist crosses of India and those used by the Christian Roman Church. The cross of the Buddhist is represented with leaves and flowers springing from it, and placed upon a Calvary as by the Roman Catholics. It is represented in various ways, but the shaft with the cross-bar and the Calvary remain the same. The tree of life and knowledge, or the jamba tree, in their maps of the world, is always represented in the shape of a cross, eighty-four yoganas, or 423 or 432 miles high, including the three steps of the Calvary.

From India we naturally turn to China, and, though its use there is involved in a deal of mystery, the cross is found among[Pg 10] their hieroglyphics, on the walls of their pagodas and on the lamps which they used to illuminate their temples.

In Kamschatka, Baron Humboldt found the cross and remains of hieroglyphics similar to those of Egypt.

Passing into America, we find that what could only be described as perfect idolatry prevailed with respect to the veneration paid to the cross. Throughout Mexico and some parts of South America the emblem is constantly found, and in many instances is evidently of great antiquity. Some travellers have explained their presence by attributing them to the Spaniards, but those people found them there when they arrived, and were greatly astonished at the spectacle, not knowing how to account for it. A lieutenant of Cortez passed over from the island of Cosumel to the continent, and coasted the peninsula of Yucatan as far as Campeachy. Everywhere he was struck with the evidences of a higher civilisation, and was astonished at the sight of numerous large stone crosses, evidently objects of worship, which he met with in various places.

At Cozuma an ancient cross is still standing. Here there is a temple of considerable size, with pyramidal towers rising several stories above the rest of the building, facing the cardinal points. In the centre of the quadrangular area within stands a high cross, constructed of stone and lime like the rest of the temple, and ten palms in height. The natives regard is as the emblem of the god of rain.

The discovery of the cross amongst the Red Indians as an object of worship, by the Spanish missionaries, in the fifteenth century, completely mystified them, and they hardly knew whether to attribute it to a good or an evil origin—whether it was the work of St. Thomas or of the Devil. The symbol was not an occasional spectacle in odd places, as though there by accident, it met them on all sides; it was literally everywhere, and in[Pg 11] every variety of form. It mattered not whether the building was old or new, inhabited or ruined and deserted, whether it was a temple or a palace, there was the cross in all shapes and of all materials—of marble, gypsum, wood, emerald, and jasper. What was, perhaps, still more remarkable was the fact that it was associated with certain other things common on the Babylonian monuments, such as the bleeding deity, the serpent and the sacred eagle, and that it bore the very same names by which it was known in Roman Catholic countries, “the tree of subsistence,” “the wood of health,” “the emblem of life.” In this latter appellation there was a parallel to the name by which it was known in Egypt, and by which the holy Tau of the Buddhists has always been known; thus placing, as has been said, any supposition of accidental coincidence beyond all reasonable debate.

In the Royal Commentaries of Peru, we have some interesting allusions to the cross and to the general sanctity with which it was surrounded. In the city of Cozco, the Incas had one of white marble, which they called a crystalline jasper, but how long they had had it was unknown. The Inca, Garcillasso de la Vega, said he left in the year 1560, in the cathedral church of that city; it was then hanging upon a nail by a list of black velvet; formerly, when in the hands of the Indians, it had been suspended by a chain of gold and silver. The form is Greek, that is, square; being as broad as it was long, and about three fingers wide. It was previously kept in one of the royal apartments, called Huaca, which signified a consecrated place. The record says that though the Indians did not adore it, yet they held it in great veneration, either for the beauty of it, or for some other reason which they knew not to assign; and so was observed amongst them, until the Marquess Don Francisco Pizarro entered the valley of Tumpiz, when by reason of some[Pg 12] accidents which befel Pedro de Candia they conceived a greater esteem and veneration for it. The historian complains that the Spaniards, after they had taken the imperial city, hung up this cross in the vestry of a church they built, whereas, he says, they ought to have placed a relic of that kind upon the high altar, adorning it with gold and precious stones; by which respect to a thing the Indians esteemed sacred, and by assimilating the ordinances of the Christian religion as near as was possible with those which the law of nature had taught this people, the lessons of Christianity would thereby have become more easy and familiar, and not seemed so far estranged from the principles of their own Gentilism.

This cross is again mentioned in another part of the Royal Commentaries, and two travellers are described as being filled with admiration at seeing crosses erected on the top of the high pinnacles of the temples and palaces; the which, it is said, were introduced from the time that Pedro de Candia, being in Tumpiz, charmed or tamed the wild beasts which were let loose to devour him, and which, simply by virtue of the cross which he held in his hand, became gentle and domestic. This was recounted with such admiration by the Indians, who carried the news of the miracle to Cozco, that when the inhabitants of the city understood it they went immediately to the sanctuary where the jasper cross already mentioned stood, and, having brought it forth, they with loud acclamations adored and worshipped it, conceiving that though the sign of the cross had for many ages been conserved by them in high esteem and veneration yet it was not entertained with such devotion as it deserved, because they were not as yet acquainted with its virtues. Believing that the sign of the cross had tamed and shut the mouths of the wild beasts, they imagined that it had a like power to deliver them out of the hands of their enemies.

[Pg 13]On both the northern and southern continents of America the cross was believed to possess the power of restraining evil spirits, and was the common symbol of the god of rain and of health. The people prayed to it when their country needed water, and the Aztec goddess of rains held one in her hand. At the feast celebrated to her honour in the spring, when the genial shower was needed to promote fertilisation, they were wont to conciliate the favour of Centeotl, the daughter of heaven and goddess of corn, by nailing a boy or girl to a cross, and after they had been so suspended for awhile piercing them with arrows shot from a bow. The Muyscas, less sanguinary than the Mexicans in sacrificing to the god of the waters, extended a couple of ropes transversely over some lake or stream, thus forming a gigantic cross, and at the point of intersection threw in their offerings of food, gems, and precious oils.

Quetyalcoatl, god of the winds, bore as his sign of office a mace like the cross of a bishop; his robe was covered with the symbol, and its adoration was connected throughout with his worship.

There is, of course, no doubt whatever that the Spaniards took the cross with them to America, and scattered it about so much in such varied directions that their own became so intermingled with the native ones as to make it difficult to distinguish one from the other; but the fact remains that what there was of cordiality in the reception they met with from the aborigines, was due in no small degree to their use of the same emblem on their standards; when this became apparent the astonishment was mutual. Many travellers have told us of these ancient crosses, and some of them while expressing doubts as to their antiquity, have yet supplied us with evidence of the same. Mr. Stephens is one of these. In his Incidents of Travel in Central America, he supplies us with some wonderful Altar Tablets found[Pg 14] at Palenque, the principal subject in one of which is the cross. It is surmounted by a strange bird, and loaded with indescribable ornaments. There are two human figures, one on either side of the cross, evidently of important personages; both are looking towards the cross, and one seems in the act of making an offering. The traveller says:—“All speculations on the subject are of course entitled to little regard, but perhaps it would not be wrong to ascribe to those personages a sacerdotal character. The hieroglyphics doubtless explain all. Near them are other hieroglyphics which remind us of the Egyptian mode of recording the name, history, office, or character of the persons represented. This tablet of the cross has given rise to more learned speculations than perhaps any others found at Palenque. Dupaix and his commentators, assuming for the building a very remote antiquity, or at least, a period long antecedent to the Christian era, account for the appearance of the cross by the argument that it was known and had a symbolical meaning among ancient nations long before it was established as the emblem of the Christian faith.”

Near Miztla, “the city of the moon,” is a cavern temple excavated from the solid rock in the form of a cross, 123 feet in length and breadth, the limbs being about 25 feet in width.

Other relics have been found in abundance in the same part of the world, proving how well known this emblem was before the advent of Christianity. In the Mexican Tribute Tables, we were told a few years ago by a writer in the Historical Magazine, small pouches or bags frequently occur. Appendages to dress, they are tastefully formed and ornamented with fringe and tassels. A cross of the Maltese or more ordinary form (Greek or Latin) is conspicuously woven or painted on each. They appear to have been in great demand, a thousand bundles being the usual Pueblo tax.

[Pg 15]The practice of marking the cross on their persons and wearing it in their garments was once common with some if not with all the occupants of the Southern Continent. The Abipones of Paraguay tatooed themselves by pricking the skin with a thorn. They all wore the form of a cross impressed on their foreheads, and two small lines at the corner of each eye, extending towards the ears, besides four transverse lines at the root of the nose, between the eyebrows, as national marks. What these figures signified no one was able to tell. The people only knew this, that the custom had been handed down to them by their ancestors. Not only were crosses marked on their foreheads, but woven in the red woollen garments of many of them. This was long before they knew anything of the Christian religion.

The “hot cross bun,” eaten in this country on Good Friday, is supposed by many to be exclusively Christian in its origin; whereas it is no more than a reproduction of a cake marked with a cross which was duly offered in the heathen temples to such living idols as the serpent and the bull. It was made of flour, honey and milk, or oil, and at certain times was eaten with much ceremony by both priests and people.

There was also used in the Pagan times the monogram of a cross upon a heart, the meaning of which was according to Egyptologists, “goodness.” “This figure,” says Sir G. Wilkinson, “enclosed in a parallelogram, in which form it would signify ‘the abode of good,’ was depicted or sculptured upon the front of several houses in Memphis and Thebes.”

A very ancient Phœnician medal was found many years ago in the ruins of Citium, on which were inscribed the cross, the rosary, and the lamb. An engraving of this may be seen in Higgins’ Celtic Druids and in Dr. Clark’s Travels.

The connection of the cross with Paganism originally, and its ultimate assumption by the Christian church, is curiously and[Pg 16] strikingly brought out by Tertullian in his Apologeticus and Ad Nationes. These treatises, we may observe, are so much alike that the former has sometimes been regarded as a first draft of the latter, which is nearly double the length. Probably, however, they are entirely different productions, one being addressed to the general public and the other to the rulers and magistrates.

Charged with worshipping a cross, he says:—“As for him who affirms that we are the priesthood of a cross, we shall claim him as our co-religionist. A cross is in its material a sign of wood; amongst yourselves also the object of worship is a wooden figure. Only, whilst with you the figure is a human one, with us the wood is its own figure. Never mind for the present what is the shape, provided the material is the same; the form, too, is of no importance, if so be it be the actual body of a god. If, however, there arises a question of difference on this point, what, let me ask, is the difference between the Athenian Pallas or the Pharia Ceres, and wood formed into a cross, when each is represented by a rough stock without form, and by the merest rudiment of a statue of unformed wood? Every piece of timber which is fixed in the ground in an erect position is a part of a cross, and indeed the greater portion of its mass. But an entire cross is attributed to us, with its transverse beam, of course, and its projecting seat. Now you have the less to excuse you, for you dedicate to religion only a mutilated imperfect piece of wood, while others consecrate to the sacred purpose a complete structure. The truth however, after all, is that your religion is all cross, as I shall show. You are indeed unaware that your gods in their origin have proceeded from this hated cross. Now every image, whether carved out of wood or stone, or molten in metal, or produced out of any other richer material, must needs have had plastic hands engaged in its formation. Well then, this modeller, before he did anything else, hit upon the form of a wooden cross, because even our own body[Pg 17] assumes as its natural position the latent and concealed outline of a cross. Since the head rises upwards and the back takes a straight direction and the shoulders project laterally, if you simply place a man with his arms and hands out-stretched, you will make the general outline of a cross. Starting then from this rudimental form and prop, as it were, he applies a covering of clay, and so gradually completes the limbs and forms the body, and covers the cross within with the shape which he meant to impress upon the clay; then from this design, with the help of compasses and leaden moulds, he has got all ready for his image which is to be brought out into marble, or clay, or metal, or whatever the material be of which he has determined to make his god. This then is the process: after the cross-shaped frame the clay; after the clay the god. In a well-understood routine the cross passes into a god through the clayey medium. The cross then you consecrate, and from it the consecrated deity begins to derive its origin. By way of example let us take the case of a tree which grows up into a system of branches and foliage, and is a reproduction of its own kind, whether it springs from the kernel of an olive, or the stone of a peach, or a grain of pepper which has been duly tempered under ground. Now if you transplant it or take a cutting off its branches for another plant, to what will you attribute what is produced by the propagation? Will it not be to the grain, or the stone, or the kernel? Because as the third stage is attributable to the second, and the second in like manner to the first, so the third will have to be referred to the first, through the second as the mean. We need not stay any longer in the discussion of this point, since by a natural law every kind of produce throughout nature refers back its growth to its original source; and just as the product is comprised in its primal cause, so does that cause agree in character with the thing produced. Since then, in the production of your gods, you[Pg 18] worship the cross which originates them, here will be the original kernel and grain from which are propagated the wooden materials of your idolatrous images. Examples are not far to seek. Your victories you celebrate with religious ceremony as deities, and they are more august in proportion to the joy they bring you. The frames on which you hang up your crosses—these are as it were the very core of your pageants. Thus in your victories the religion of your camp makes even crosses objects of worship; your standards it adores, your standards are the sanction of its oaths, your standards it prefers before Jupiter himself. But all that parade of images and that display of pure gold, are as so many necklaces of the crosses. In like manner also in the banners and ensigns, which your soldiers guard with no less sacred care, you have the streamers and vestments of your crosses. You are ashamed, I suppose, to worship unadorned and simple crosses.”

We give this passage at length because it emphasises what we are urging in connection with this subject, viz., that the cross is common to both Christianity and Paganism, that the latter possessed it ages before the former, and is therefore more likely to have originated it. We speak with some reserve on this latter point for want of proper and full evidence. It may of course be possible that in a purer and more enlightened age the cross was known and used; we shall probably, however, find our researches stop short in Pagan times, in which we shall have to look for the generally recognised meaning of the symbol.

It is remarkable in the quotation just made, that Tertullian never attempts to refute the charge brought by the Pagans against the Christians of his time of worshipping the cross; he merely retaliates by asserting that they did the very same thing in a somewhat different manner. “As for him,” he says, “who affirms that we are the priesthood of a cross, we shall claim him[Pg 19] as our co-religionist.... What, let me ask, is the difference between the Athenian Pallas or the Pharian Ceres, and wood formed into a cross?”

He further identifies himself and his religion with the Pagans in this particular by saying:—“In all our movements, our travels, our going out and coming in, putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down: whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.” How much all this reminds us of the universality of the symbol in pre-Christian times. We can scarcely point to an age or to a century in which it did not in some way enter into its history, its theology, its social and domestic life. Again and again have monuments been discovered which put the date of its use further back than had been imagined, and some have been brought to light which carry the story back into very remote antiquity indeed. In the wilds of Central India, for instance, a little over twenty years back, the late Mr. Mulheran, C.E., discovered two of the oldest crosses ever met with. They were granite monoliths, perfect in structure, and very much like those to be found here and there in the western parts of Cornwall. One was ten feet nine inches in height, and the other eight feet six inches; each being in the midst of a group of cairns and cromlechs or dolmens, which Colonel Taylor describes as similar in character to some which he formerly surveyed near the village of Rajunkolloor, within the Principality of Shorapoor, in the Deccan. Their extreme antiquity is inferred from the fact, as stated by the European officer who first discovered them, that the vicinity of the groups of cromlechs and crosses had, at some remote period, been cultivated; that parts of the hills had been cut into terraces, and supported by large stone banks or walls; but that the country for miles in every direction was, and had been for centuries and[Pg 20] centuries, entirely uninhabited, and was grown over with dense forests. It has been estimated that, as this elevated and long-neglected region has been the possession of the low castes, or non-Aryan helots, from time immemorial, we may confidently assume that the monoliths in question were erected by the aboriginal population of the soil—a population which was driven, not improbably three thousand years, at the least, before the advent of Christ, from the richer plains below by the first Aryan invader who had crossed the five streams, and found a temporary refuge in the nearest range of hills to the west of Chandar, until another foe—the Mogul—appeared upon the scene, and finally subdued both the conqueror and his victims. “Here then,” says a reviewer, “amongst these now fragmentary people from the débris of a widely-spread primeval race (to borrow a phrase from a recent writer on the non-Aryan languages of the Continent), we find the symbol of the cross, not only expressing the same mystery as in all other parts of the world, but its erection, doubtless, dating from one of the very earliest migrations of our species.” It is impossible to adduce any clearer or stronger proof of its primitive antiquity than this.

It has been suggested by some writers, who, for some reason or other, objected to the recognition of the cross as an emblem of great antiquity, that the stone structures which were erected in the British Islands by the Druids, Saxons, and Danes, owed their cruciform character to the necessities of the situation rather than to any other cause; that the stones were placed across each other as a matter of mere convenience, and not with the view of forming a cross, and that these monuments, which served as instruments of Druidical superstition before the implanting of the Gospel in Britain, were afterwards appropriated to the use of Christian memorials by being formed in the figure of a cross or marked with this emblem. It is admitted, of course, that[Pg 21] those cruciform structures were thus appropriated, but of what use will it be to repudiate the antiquity of examples whose age has been far surpassed in other parts of the world. The crosses of India, just alluded to, remain to be accounted for, and even when they have been as summarily disposed of as the British ones, there are the crosses suspended from the necks of the Assyrian kings, whose existence cannot possibly be accounted for by the above hypothesis. It was not necessity or convenience that designed a Maltese cross, a thousand years before the Christian era, of precisely the same form as that which is worn by men and women in this nineteenth century, nor probably was it a merely ornamental taste; we are rather disposed to believe that the secret lies in the symbolical meaning, which has ever been attached to the form.

The universality of the cross as a religious symbol is certainly a most astounding fact, and the more so because it has evidently always represented the same fundamental idea in connection with the theological systems, in all ages, of the Old and New Worlds. If but one of these mythologies possessed it, there might be little difficulty in tracing out the significance of the coincidence between its existence there and in Christian theology, but prevailing as it does universally, and destined as it is to retain its connection with the religion of man, it excites feelings of the most profound wonderment and surprise. Lipsius and other early writers, in reference to this matter, declared their sincere belief that the numerous cruciform figures to be found on the monuments of antiquity were of a typical character, and expressed a sentiment which looked forward to the cross of Christ; a few others doubted this, and suggested difficulties, while Gibbon ridiculed the whole matter, as it thus stood, from beginning to end. The belief, however, that the cross in Pagan lands was in some incomprehensible manner connected with the same object[Pg 22] or idea as in the Christian church was not easily got rid of, and was considerably deepened by the testimony of missionaries to the New World that amongst people of apparently different origin and of altogether different attributes, the cross was common as an object of worship and veneration. So universal has the presence of this symbol and its attendant worship been found that it has been said to form a complete zone about the habitable globe, extending as it does from Assyria into Egypt, and India, and Anahuac, in their ruined temples; to the pyramidal structures of East and West, and to those in Polynesia, especially the islands of Tonga, Viti, and Easter; “as it appears upon numberless vases, medals, and coins of the earliest known types, centuries anterior to the introduction of Christianity; and as its teaching is expressed in the concordant customs, rites, and traditions of former nations and communities, who were widely separated from, and for the most part ignorant of, the existence of each other, and who possessed, so far as we are aware, no other emblematical figure in common.” Egypt, Assyria, Britain, India, China, Scandinavia, the two Americas—all were alike its home, and in all of them was there analogy in the teaching respecting its meaning.



[Pg 23]


Forms of the Cross—Ancient Maltese Cross—Phallic Character of some Crosses—Offensive Forms of the Cross in Etruscan and Pompeian Monuments—Thor’s Battle-axe—The Buddhist Cross—Indian Crosses—The Fylfot or Four-footed Cross—Danish Poem of the Thors of Asgard—Legend of Thor’s Loss of his Golden Hammer—Original Meaning of these Crosses—Reception of Christianity amongst the Britons—Plato and the Cross—The Mexican Tree of Life—Rain Makers—The Winds—Various Meanings attributed to the Cross—The Crux Ansata—Phallic Attributes—Coins, Gaulish and Jewish—Roman Coins—The Lake Dwellings—The Cross in the Patriarchal Age.


In studying the origin and signification of the pre-Christian cross, we, naturally of course, turn our attention to the forms in which it is delineated; these are both numerous and varied—so varied indeed that a writer, some years ago, in the Edinburgh Review stated that his commonplace-book contained nearly two hundred representations, which he had found combined as often as not with other emblems of a sacred character, and which had been collected from all parts of the world. We may notice a few of the principal which are really, generally speaking, types of all.

Most people are familiar with the Maltese cross—that consisting of four triangles meeting in a central circle, or as it is generally described, the cross with the four delta-like arms conjoined to or issuing from the nave of a wheel or a diminutive circle. It derives its name from its discovery on the island of Malta, and from its adoption by the Knights of St. John for their coat-of-arms. There is no doubt it is one of the most ancient forms of the cross we are acquainted with, as it is found, as we have already stated, on the sculptures of the Assyrian monarchs long before the Christian era, and may be seen on the sculptures in[Pg 24] the British Museum. In some of the Nineveh monuments representing subject-people bringing tribute to the king, it occurs in the form of ear-rings.

In Assyria, it is believed to have been the emblem of royalty, as it is found on the breasts of the most powerful of the rulers. As it was known originally in Malta, it was of a very different character to the ornament worn either by the Assyrian monarch or by the modern inhabitants of civilised nations. It was indeed of so gross a character, that the Knights of St. John soon set to work to make something more decent of it—something which while not altogether discarding the old form, should yet be inoffensive to the eye of the more modest onlooker. It was made up, in fact, of four gigantic phalli carved out of the solid granite, similar to the form in which it is found in the island of Gozyo, and on some of the Etruscan and Pompeian monuments.

The reason why it assumed a phallic character in the locality which gives it its name, is not perhaps clear, but the study of Assyrian antiquities has revealed the meaning attached to it in the palmy days of Nineveh and Babylon; it referred to the four great gods of the Assyrian pantheon—Ra, and the first triad—Ana, Belus, and Hea; and when inserted in a roundlet, as may be seen in the British Museum, it signified Sansi, or the sun ruling the earth as well as the heavens. It was therefore the symbol of royalty and dominion, which accounts for its presence on the breasts of kings.

On the Etruscan and Pompeian monuments generally, this cross is as gross and offensive in form as in ancient Malta, but it is found in a character as unobjectionable as in Assyria, on the official garments of the Etruscan priesthood. It has been found in Asia Minor, Cyprus, and Sicily; and Dr. Schliemann discovered many examples of it (with other crosses) on the vases which he dug from the seat of ancient Troy. It was also found[Pg 25] in what was described as a “magnificent cruciform mosaic pavement, discovered about thirty years ago in the ruins of a Gallo-Roman villa at Pont d’Oli (Pons Aulæ), near Pau, in the Basses-Pyrenees, accompanied by several other varieties of the cross, including the St. George and the St. Andrew, all glowing in colours richly dight, and surrounding a colossal bust of Proteus, settled in the midst of his sea monsters.”

The cross generally regarded as the most notable type of that emblem, because it is said to have figured in the religious systems of more peoples than any other, is that known as “Thor’s hammer,” or “Thor’s battle-axe.” It may, perhaps, also be set down as the most ancient of the crosses—how many years back it dates we cannot say, several thousands evidently. It consisted of the last letter of the Samaritan alphabet, the tau or tav in its decussated or most primitive form, and may be described, as it has been sometimes, as a cruciform hammer.

It derived its name from being borne in the hand of Thor, as the all-powerful instrument by means of which his deeds recorded in the Eddas were accomplished. “It was venerated by the heroes of the north as the magical sign which thwarted the power of death over those who bore it; and the Scandinavian devotee placed it upon his horn of mead before raising it to his lips, no doubt for the purpose of imparting to it the life-giving virtues.” To this hour it is employed by the women of India and of the north-eastern parts of Africa as a mark of possession or taboo, which they generally impress upon the vessels containing their stores of grain, &c.

A writer in the Edinburgh Review of January, 1870, hazards the opinion that this was the mark which the prophet was commanded to impress upon the foreheads of the faithful in Judah, as recorded in Ezekiel ix. 4. He gives no reason or authority for this statement, but probably derived it from St. Jerome and[Pg 26] others of his time, who said that the letter tau was that which was ordered to be placed on the foreheads of those mourners. Jerome says that the Hebrew letter tau was formerly written like a cross.

As to the name of this cross, the popular designation is clearly a mistake, since its origin dates back centuries before the mythology of the north was developed. In India it was known as the swastika of the Buddhists, and served as the monograms of Vishnu and Siva. Such are its associations and uses at the present day, and, no doubt, they have been the same from the very advent of the religions of these respective deities. The enquirer has, however, not even here measured the limit of its antiquity, for in China it was known as the Leo-tsen long before the Sakya-Buddha era, and was portrayed upon the walls of their pagodas and upon the lanterns used to illumine their most sacred precints. It has ever been the symbol of their heaven. In the great temple of Rameses II., at Thebes, it is represented frequently with such associations as conclusively prove that its significance was the same in the land of the Nile as in China. All over the East it is the magic symbol of the Buddhist heaven; the chief ornament on the sceptres and crowns of the Bompa deities of Thibet, who dispute the palm of antiquity with all other divinities; and is beautifully pressed in the Artee, or musical bell, borne by the figure of Balgovina, the herald or messenger of heaven. The universality of the use of this symbol is proved by its prevalence as well in Europe as in Asia and Africa. Among the Etruscans it was used as a religious sign, as is shown by its appearance on urns exhumed from ancient lake-beds situated between Parma and Pacenza. Those taken from the Lacustrine cemeteries are thought to date back to 1000 B.C. On the terra-cotta vases of Alba Longa the same sign is impressed, and served as the symbol of Persephone, the awful queen of the shades, the arbiter of mortal fate; while on the roll of the Roman soldier it[Pg 27] was the sign of life. On the old Runic monuments it is ever present. Even in Scotland it is found on sculptured stones of unknown age. The most numerous examples of this form, however, are found in the sculptures of Khorsabad, and in the ivories from Nimroud; here occur almost all the known varieties. It has been observed, too, in Persia; and is used to this day in Northern India to mark the jars of sacred water taken from the Indus and Ganges. It is especially esteemed by the inhabitants of Southern India as the emblem of disembodied Jaina saints. Very remarkable illustrations of it, carved in the most durable rock, and inserted in the exterior walls of temples and other edifices of Mexico and Central America, also occur, which may be seen in Lord Kingsborough’s Mexican Antiquities. It is found on innumerable coins and medals of all times and of all peoples; from the rude mintages of Ægina and Sicily, as well as from the more skilful hands of the Bactrian and Continental Greeks. It is noteworthy, too, in reference to its extreme popularity, or superstitious veneration in which it has been almost universally held, that the cross-patée, or cruciform hammer, was one of the very last of purely pagan symbols which were religiously preserved in Europe long after the establishment of Christianity. To the close of the Middle Ages the stole, or Isian mantle, of the Cistercian monk was usually adorned with it; and men wore it suspended from their necklaces in precisely the same manner as did the vestal-virgins of pagan Rome. It may be seen upon the bells of many of our parish churches in the northern, midland, and eastern counties, as at Appleby, Mexborough, Hathersage, Waddington, Bishop’s Norton, West Barkwith, and other places, where it was placed as a magical sign to subdue the vicious spirit of the tempest. It is said to be still used for the like purpose, during storms of wind and rain, by the peasantry in Iceland and in the southern parts of Germany.[2]

[Pg 28]This cross is also known as the “Fylfot,” or “Fytfot” (four-footed cross), or “Gammadion”—“the dissembled cross under the discipline of the secret.” Jewitt, who has written in an interesting manner upon the subject, supports what we have already stated in the foregoing pages with the observation that this is one of the most singular, most ancient, and most interesting of the whole series of crosses. Some say it is composed of four gammas, conjoined in the centre, which as numerals expressed the Holy Trinity, and by its rectangular form symbolised the chief corner-stone of the Church. We mentioned that it was known in India as the swastika of the Buddhists; we note further that it is said to be formed of the two words “su” (well) and “asti” (it is), meaning “it is,” or “it is well;” equal to “so be it,” and implying complete resignation. “From this the Swastikas, the opponents of the Brahmins, who denied the immortality of the soul, and affirmed that its existence was finite and connected only with the body upon earth, received their name; their monogrammatic enblem, or symbol, being the mystic cross formed by the combination of two syllables, su + ti = suti, or swasti.”[3]

The connection of this cross with Thor, the Thunderer, is not without its signification and importance, in considering the forms and origin of these emblems and their transmission from the Pagan to the Christian world. Thor was said to be the bravest of the sons of Odin, or Woden, and Fria, or Friga, the goddess of earth. (From Thor, of course, we get our Thursday; from Woden, Wednesday; and from Friga, Friday). “He was believed to be of the most marvellous power and might; yea, and that there were no people throughout the whole world that were not subjected unto him, and did not owe him divine honour and service; and that there was no puissance comparable to his.[Pg 29] His dominion of all others most farthest extending itself, both in heaven and earth. That, in the aire he governed the winds and the clouds; and being displeased did cause lightning, thunder, and tempest, with excessive raine, haile, and all ill weather. But being well pleased by the adoration, sacrifice, and service of his suppliants, he then bestowed upon them most faire and seasonable weather; and caused corne abundantly to grow, as all sorts of fruits, &c., and kept away the plague and all other evil and infectious diseases.”

Thor’s emblem was a hammer of gold, represented as a fylfot, and with it he destroyed his enemies the Jotuns, crushed the head of the great Mitgard serpent, killed numbers of giants, restored the dead goats to life that drew his car, and consecrated the pyre of Baldur. This hammer, boomerang like, had the property, when thrown, of striking the object aimed at and then returning to the thrower’s hand. Mr. Jewitt thinks we have, in this, a curious insight into the origin of the form of the emblem itself. He says:—“I have remarked that the fylfot is sometimes described as being formed of four gammas conjoined in the centre. When the form of the boomerang—a missile instrument of barbaric nations, much the shape of the letter V with a rounded instead of acute bottom, which, on being thrown, slowly ascends in the air, whirling round and round, till it reaches a considerable height, and then returns until it finally sweeps over the head of the thrower and strikes the ground behind him—is taken into consideration, and the traditional returning power of the hammer is remembered in connection with it, the fylfot may surely be not inappropriately described as a figure composed of four boomerangs, conjoined in the centre. This form of fylfot is not uncommon in early examples, and even on a very ancient specimen of Chinese porcelain it occurs at the angles of the pattern—it is the ordinary fylfot, with the angles curved or rounded.

[Pg 30]Ancient literature abounds in curious and sensational stories about the wonders accomplished by Thor with the assistance of this hammer. Once he lost his weapon, or tool, and with it his power, by stratagem however he regained both.

The Danish poem, called the “Thorr of Asgard,” as translated by De Prior, says:—

“There rode the mighty of Asgard, Thor,
His journey across the plain;
And there his hammer of gold he lost,
And sought so long in vain.

’Twas then the mighty of Asgard, Thor,
His brother his bidding told—
Up thou and off to the Northland Fell,
And seek my hammer of gold.

He spake, and Loki, the serving-man,
His feathers upon him drew;
And launching over the salty sea,
Away to the Northland flew.”

Greeting the Thusser king, he informed him of the cause of his visit, viz., that Thor had lost his golden hammer. Then the king replied that Thor would never again see his hammer until he had given him the maiden Fredenborg to wife. Loki took back this message to Thor, who disguised himself as the maiden in woman’s clothes, and was introduced to the king as his future bride. After expressing his astonishment at the wonderful appetite of the maiden, he ordered eight strong men to bring in the hammer and lay it across the lap of the bride. Thor immediately threw off his disguise and seized the hammer, with which, after he had slain the king, he returned home.

The fylfot cross is frequently found on Roman pottery in various parts of England, as for instance on the famous Colchester vase, on which is depicted a gladiatorial combat, the cross being distinctly marked on the shields of the combatants. Another fine example is found on a Roman altar of Minerva at High[Pg 31] Rochester. “The constant use of the symbol,” says Jewitt, “through so many ages, and by so many and such varied peoples, gives it an importance which is peculiarly striking.”

To sum up this part of the subject then, we have amongst numerous others the following chief forms of the cross common in all parts of the world. The Latin, a long upright with shorter cross beam; the Greek, an upright and bar of equal lengths; the St. Andrews, in the form of a letter X; the Maltese, four triangles conjoined to a circular centre; the Hammer of Thor; and the Crux Ansata, or handled cross.

The question now arises, what was the origin or original meaning of these crosses? Uninformed Christians are generally under the impression that all refer to one and the same thing, viz., the instrument of the death of Jesus Christ: historical evidence just produced, however, clearly disproves that, and what we may say further will add additional weight to the argument.

It has been noticed that the Britons received Christianity with remarkable readiness, and this has been attributed to the following among other circumstances, viz., the impression which they held in common with the Platonists and Pythagoreans, that the Second Person of the Deity was imprinted on the universe in the form of a cross. We have already explained that the Druids in their groves were accustomed to select the most stately and beautiful tree as an emblem of the Deity they adored, and having cut off the side branches, affixed two of them to the highest part of the trunk in such a manner as that those branches, extending on each side like the arms of a man, together with the body, should present to the spectator the appearance of a huge cross, and that on the bark of the tree, in various places, was actually inscribed the letter T,—Tau.

“Some have gone so far as to suppose a Celtic origin for the word cross, and have derived it from Crugh and Cruach, which[Pg 32] signify a cross in that language, though others suppose these have a much more probable origin in the Hebrew and Chaldee. Chrussh, signifies boards or pieces of timber fastened together, as we should say, cross-wise; the word is so used in Exodus xxvii. 6. This seems a very natural and probable etymology for the term, but it may also allude more to the agony suffered on such an erection, and then its origin perhaps may be traced to Chrutz, ‘agitation.’ This word also means to be ‘kneaded,’ and broken to pieces like clay in the hands of a potter. Chrotshi, in Chaldee, we are told by Parkhurst, means accusations, charges, revilings, reproach, all of them terms applied to Jesus Christ in his sufferings. Pliny shows that the punishment of the cross among the Romans was as old as Tarquinus Priscus; how much older it is perhaps difficult to say.

“Plato, born 430 years before Christ, had advocated the idea of a Trinity, and had expressed an opinion that the form of the Second Person of it was stamped upon the universe in the form of a cross. St. Augustine goes so far as to say that it was by means of the Platonic system that he was enabled to understand properly the doctrine of the Trinity.”

Perhaps, originally, the cross had but one meaning, whatever its form; it is probable that it was so. However that may be, it is certain that as time went on and its form varied, different significations were attached to it. It represented creative power and eternity in Egypt, Assyria, and Britain; it was emblematical of heaven and immortality in India, China, and Scandinavia; it was the sign of freedom from physical suffering in the Americas; all over the world it symbolised the Divine Unity—resurrection and life to come.

“In the Mexican tongue it bore the significant and worthy name, ‘Tree of our Life,’ or ‘Tree of our Flesh.’ It represented the god of rains and of health, and this was everywhere its simple[Pg 33] meaning. ‘Those of Yucatan,’ say the chroniclers, ‘prayed to the cross as the god of rains when they needed water.’ The Aztec goddess of rains bore one in her hand, and at the feast celebrated to her honour in the early spring (as we have previously noted) victims were nailed to a cross and shot with arrows. Quetzalcoatl, god of the winds, bore as his sign of office a mace like the cross of a bishop; his robe was covered with them strewn like flowers, and its adoration was throughout connected with his worship.”

We have mentioned that “when the Muyscas would sacrifice to the goddess of waters, they extended cords across the tranquil depths of some lake, thus forming a gigantic cross, and that at the point of intersection threw in their offerings of gold, emeralds and precious oils. The arms of the cross were designed to point to the cardinal points, and represent the four winds, the rain bringers. To confirm this explanation, let us have recourse to the simpler ceremonies of the less cultivated tribes, and see the transparent meaning of the symbol as they employed it.

“When the rain maker of the Lenni Lenape would exert his power, he retired to some secluded spot and drew upon the earth the figure of a cross, placed upon it a piece of tobacco, a gourd, a bit of some red stuff, and commenced to cry aloud to the spirits of the rains. The Creeks at the festival of the Busk, celebrated to the four winds, and according to the legends instituted by them, commenced with making the new fire. The manner of this was to place four logs in the centre of the square, end to end, forming a cross, the outer ends pointing to the cardinal points; in the centre of the cross the new fire is made.”[4]

“As the emblem of the winds which disperse the fertilising showers,” says Brinton, “it is emphatically the tree of our life,[Pg 34] our subsistence, and our health. It never had any other meaning in America, and if, as has been said, the tombs of the Mexicans were cruciform, it was perhaps with reference to a resurrection and a future life as portrayed under this symbol, indicating that the buried body would rise by the action of the four spirits of the world, as the buried seed takes on a new existence when watered by the vernal showers. It frequently recurs in the ancient Egyptian writings, where it is interpreted life; doubtless, could we trace the hieroglyph to its source, it would likewise prove to be derived from the four winds.”[5]

The Buddhist cross to which allusion has been made was exactly the cross of the Manicheans, with leaves and flowers springing from it, and placed upon a Mount Calvary as among the Roman Catholics. The tree of life and knowledge, or the Jambu tree, in their maps of the world, is always represented in the shape of a Manichean cross 84 yojanas, or 423 miles high, including the three steps of the Calvary. This cross, putting forth leaves and flowers (and fruit also, Captain Wilford was informed), is called the divine tree, the tree of the gods, the tree of life and knowledge, and productive of whatever is good and desirable, and is placed in the terrestrial Paradise. Agapius, according to Photius, maintained that this divine tree, in Paradise, was Christ himself. In their delineation of the heavens, the globe of the earth is filled with this cross and its Calvary. The divines of Thibet, says Captain Wilford, place it to the S.W. of Meru, towards the source of the Ganges. The Manicheans always represented Christ crucified upon a tree, among the foliage. The Christians of India, though they did not admit of images, still entertained the greatest veneration for the cross. They placed it on a Calvary in public places and at the meeting of cross roads, and even the heathen Hindus in these parts paid also great regard to it.

[Pg 35]Captain Wilford was presented by a learned Buddhist with a book, called the Cshetra-samasa, which contained several drawings of the cross. Some of these his friend was unable to explain to him, but whatever the variations of the cross were in other particulars, they were declared to be invariable as regards the shaft and two arms; the Calvary was sometimes omitted. One of these crosses seemed to puzzle the Buddhist completely, or he would not say either what he thought or knew about it. It consisted of the ordinary cross with shaft and cross-bar, pointed at the ends, but with two other bars intersecting the right angles formed by the shaft and cross-bar, thus giving six points. No one can look at this cross, and not at once discern its phallic character. Some writers affect to laugh at this, but we have ample evidence that at times such a meaning has been attributed to the cross. In connection with this, Dr. Inman makes some remarks which we shall do well to consider, whether we receive them or not; there may be nothing in them, and there may be much. He says:—“There can be no doubt, I think, in the mind of any student of antiquity, that the cross is not originally a Christian emblem; nay, the very fact that the cross was used as a means of executing criminals shows that its form was familiar to Jews and Romans. It was used partly as an ornament, and partly in certain forms of religious worship. The simple cross, with perpendicular and transverse arms of equal length, represented the nave and spokes of the solar wheel, or the sun darting his rays on all sides. As the wheel became fantastically developed so did the cross, and each limb became so developed at the outer end as to symbolise the triad. Sometimes the idea was very coarsely represented; and I have seen, amongst some ancient Etruscan remains, a cross formed of four phalli of equal length, their narrow end pointing inwards; and in the same work another was portrayed, in which the phallus was made of inordinate[Pg 36] length so as to support the others high up from the ground; each was in itself a triad. The same form of cross was probably used by the Phœnicians, who appear to have colonised Malta at a very early period of their career; for they have left a form of it behind them in the shape of a cross similar to that described above, but which has been toned down by the moderns, who could not endure the idea of an union between grossness and the crucifix, and the phalli became as innocent as we see them in the Maltese cross of to-day.”

So many traces of the cross, as used in ancient times in all parts of the world, meet us on every hand that we find it difficult within the limited space at our command even to enumerate them; we have already traversed in our account a greater part of the known world, and still vast numbers of instances remain unnoticed. Almost as varied as its principal forms are the explanations offered respecting its origin and significance. We are told by some that for its origin we must go to the Buddhists and to the Lama of Thibet, who is said to take his name from the cross, called in his language Lamh. Higgins quotes Vallence as saying that the Tartars call the cross Lama, from the Scythian Lamh, a hand, synonymous to the Yod of the Chaldeans; and that it thus became the name of a cross, and of the high priest with the Tartars; and with the Irish, Luarn, signifying the head of the church, an abbot, &c.

The last form of cross to which we shall here allude is that known as the Crux Ansata, or Handled Cross. Whatever may be the signification of that instrument, or ornament, it is certain that no other has ever been so variously explained, or has been so successful in puzzling those who have sought to give it a meaning. Some have said it was a Nilometer, or measure of the rise of the Nile; one—a bishop—thought it was a setting stick for planting roots; another said it represented the Law of[Pg 37] Gravitation. Don Martin said it was a winnowing fan; Herwart said it was a compass; Pococke said it represented the four elements. Others, again, suggest that it may be only a key. “It opened,” says Borwick, “the door of the sacred chest. It revealed hidden things. It was the hope of life to come.” And he continues, “However well the cross fit the mathematical lock, the phallic lock, the gnostic lock, the philosophical lock, the religious lock, it is quite likely that this very ancient and almost universal symbol was at first a secret in esoteric holding, to the meaning of which, with all our guessing, we have no certain clue.”

This cross has certainly a most remarkable connection with the ancient history of Egypt, being found universally represented on the monuments, the tombs, the walls, and the wrapping cloths of the dead; hence, evidently, the idea that it is peculiarly Egyptian and its ascription of “Key of the Nile.” From Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Ruffinus, we learn that it was known to the Egyptian Christians at the close of the fourth century as the symbol of eternal life. Later on, Dr. Max Uhlman wrote, “that the handle cross means life, is manifest from the Rosetta inscription and other texts.” Zöckler, another German author, notices the opinion of Macrobius that it was the hieroglyphic sign of Osiris, or the sun, it being a fact that when the ancient Egyptians wished to symbolise Osiris, they set up a staff with an eye upon it, because in antiquity the sun was known as the eye of God, and then claims that the round portion represented the orb of the sun, the perpendicular bar signifying the rays of the high mid-day sun, and the shorter horizontal bar symbolising the rays of the rising or setting sun. The discovery of this emblem by M. Mariette in a niche of the holy of holies in the ancient temple of Denderah, points significantly to its importance and peculiar sacredness, and it has been thought probable that it was the central object of interest in the inner precincts of the temple.

[Pg 38]It seems that the Egyptian priests, when asked for an explanation of this cross, evaded the question by replying that the Tau was a “divine mystery.”

However varied the explanations offered may be, and whatever the mystery said to surround this object, the feature always remains,—its symbolisation of life and regeneration. From this, its phallic character was very easily inferred—its derivation from the lingam-yoni symbol, said Barlow, seemed a very natural process. The junction of the yoni with the cross, in Dr. Inman’s judgment, sufficiently proved that it had a phallic or male signification; a conclusion which certain unequivocal Etruscan remains fully confirmed. “We conclude, therefore,” says this writer, “that the ancient cross was an emblem of the belief in a male creator, and the method by which creation was initiated.”

Not the least remarkable exemplification of the universal prevalence of the cross both as to time and country, is found amongst coins and medals: here as in other things it is ever prominent. Take the ancient Gaulish coins, for instance, and the fylfot and ordinary Greek cross abound; take the ancient British coins of the age long prior to Christianity, and the same thing occurs. “On Scandinavian coins, as well as those of Gaul, the fylfot cross appears, as it also does on those of Syracuse, Corinth, and Chalcedon. On the coins of Byblos, Astarte is represented holding a long staff, surmounted by a cross, and resting her foot on the prow of a galley. On the coins of Asia Minor, the cross is also to be found. It occurs as the reverse of a silver coin, supposed to be of Cyprus, on several Cilician coins; it is placed beneath the throne of Baal of Tarsus, on a Phœnician coin of that time, bearing the legend ‘Baal Tharz.’ A medal possibly of the same place, with partially obliterated Phœnician characters, has the cross occupying the entire field of the reverse side. Several, with inscriptions in unknown characters,[Pg 39] have a ram on one side and the cross and ring on the other. Another has the sacred bull, accompanied by this symbol; others have a lion’s head on obverse, and a cross and circle on the reverse.”[6]

Strangely enough, even Jewish money is marked with this emblem, the shekel bearing on one side what is usually called a triple lily or hyacinth; the same forming a pretty floral cross.

On Roman coins the cross was of very frequent occurrence, and illustrations of good examples may be seen in the pages of the Art Journal for the year 1874. An engraving of the quincunx, or piece of five unciæ, is given, bearing on one side a cross, a V, and five pellets; and on the other a cross only. This is an example of the earlier periods; of course when we come to the later periods the emblem is still more frequent. These coins are often found in ancient graves and sarcophagi, and these latter again supply examples of various familiar forms of crosses of very remote antiquity,—not simply the adornment of coffin and gravecloths, but the actual construction of the tomb or grave-mound in that form. Fine specimens of these have been discovered at Stoney-Littleton, at New Grange, at Banwell, Somerset, at Adisham, at Hereford, at Helperthorpe, and in the Isle of Lewis.

“Before the Romans, long before the Etruscans, there lived in the plains of northern Italy a people to whom the cross was a religious symbol, the sign beneath which they laid their dead to rest; a people of whom history tells nothing, knowing not their name, but of whom antiquarian research has learned this, that they lived in ignorance of the laws of civilisation, that they dwelt in villages built on platforms over lakes, and that they trusted in the cross to guard, and may be to revive their loved ones whom they committed to the dust. Throughout Emilia are found [Pg 40]remains of these people; these remains form quarries whence manure is dug by the peasants of the present day. These quarries go by the name of terramares. They are vast accumulations of cinders, charcoal, bones, fragments of pottery, and other remains of human industry. As this earth is very rich in phosphates it is much appreciated by agriculturists as a dressing for their land. In these terramares there are no human bones. The fragments of earthenware belong to articles of domestic use; with them are found querns, moulds for metal, portions of cabin floors, and great quantities of kitchen refuse. They are deposits analogous to those which have been discovered in Denmark and Switzerland. The metal discovered in the majority of these terramares is bronze; the remains belong to three distinct ages. In the first none of the fictile ware was turned on the wheel or fire-baked. Sometimes these deposits exhibit an advance of civilisation. Iron came into use, and with it the potter’s wheel was discovered, and the earthenware was put in the furnace. When in the same quarry these two epochs are found, the remains of the second age are always superposed over those of the bronze age. A third period is occasionally met with, but only occasionally; a period when a rude art introduced itself, and representatives of animals or human beings adorned the pottery. Among the remains of this period is found the first trace of money, rude little bronze fragments without shape.

“Among other remains in these lake-dwellings, pottery has been in many cases found, and these vessels bear, on the bottom, crosses of various forms, as well also curious solid double cones. That which characterises the cemeteries of Golasecca, says M. de Mortillet, and gives them their highest interest, is this:—first, the entire absence of all organic representations; we only found three and they were exceptional, in tombs not belonging to the plateau; secondly, the almost invariable presence of the cross[Pg 41] under the vases in the tombs. When we reversed the ossuaries, the saucer-lids, or the accessory vases, we saw almost always, if in good preservation, a cross traced thereon ... the examination of the tombs of Golasecca proves, in a most convincing, positive, and precise manner, that which the terramares of Emilia had only indicated, but which had been confirmed by the cemetery of Villanova; that above a thousand years before Christ, the cross was already a religious emblem of frequent employment.”[7]

“There is every reason to suppose that the cross was a symbol of more import in the early patriarchal ages than is generally imagined. It was not only the first letter, but it was also the emblem, of Taut, the Mercury, the word, the messenger of the gods, the angel, as we may say, of his presence, himself a god among the Egyptians and the Britons, whose god Teutates was analagous both in name and nature; a winged messenger. M. Le Clerc, one of the ablest mythologists who ever wrote, has shown that the Teutates of the Gauls, the Hermes of the Greeks, the Mercury of the Romans, were all one and the same.

The Ethiopic letter Taui, or Taw, says Lowth, still retains the form of a cross, X; and the Samaritan T, which the Ethiopians are said to have borrowed from the Samaritans, was in the form of a X cross. In several Samaritan coins, says Montfaucon, to be found in the collections of medallists, the letter Tau is engraved in the form of a cross, or Greek Chi, and he gives as his authority Origen and Jerome.

The Jewish High-priest, we are informed by the Rabbis, was anointed on his investiture, while he who anointed him drew on his forehead with his finger the figure of the Greek letter Chi, X.”[8]



[Pg 42]


Heathen Ideas of a Trinity—The Magi—Ancient Theologies—The Indian Trinity—The Sculptures of Elephanta—The Sacred Zennar—Temples consecrated to Indian Trinities—The Greek Trident—Attributes of Brahm—The Hindu Meru—Narayana—The Trimurti—Gods of Egypt.


“Many of the heathens are said to have had a notion of a Trinity,” wrote a contributor to an encyclopædia, some eighty years ago. Now that altogether fails to reach the truth, for heathen nations are known to scholars to have had very definite ideas indeed about a sacred Triad; in fact, as another writer has said, there is nothing in all theology more deeply grounded, or more generally allowed by them, than the mystery of the Trinity. The Chaldeans, Phœnicians, Greeks, and Romans, both in their writings and their oracles, acknowledged that the Supreme Being had begotten another Being from all eternity, whom they sometimes called the Son of God, sometimes the Word, sometimes the Mind, and sometimes the Wisdom of God, and asserted to be the Creator of all things.

Among the sayings of the Magi, the descendants of Zoroaster, was one as follows:—“The Father finished all things, and delivered them to the Second Mind.”

We learn from Dr. Cudworth that, besides the inferior gods generally received by all the Pagans (viz.: animated stars, demons, and heroes), the more refined of them, who accounted not the world the Supreme Deity, acknowledged a Trinity of divine hypostases superior to them all. This doctrine, according to Plotinus, is very ancient, and obscurely asserted even by Parmenides. Some have referred its origin to Pythagoreans, and others to Orpheus, who adopted three principles, called Phanes, Uranus, and Cronus. Dr. Cudworth apprehends that[Pg 43] Pythagoras and Orpheus derived this doctrine from the theology of the Egyptian Hermes; and, as it is not probable that it should have been first discovered by human reason, he concurs with Proclus in affirming that it was at first a theology of divine tradition, or revelation, imparted first to the Hebrews, and from them communicated to the Egyptians and other nations; among whom it was depraved and adulterated.

Plato, also, and his followers, speak of the Trinity in such terms, that the primitive fathers have actually been accused of borrowing the doctrine from the Platonic school.

In Indian theology there is no more prominent doctrine than that of a Divine Triad governing all things, consisting of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. By Brahma, they mean God, the Creator; by Vishnu (according to the Sanscrit), a preserver, a comforter, a cherisher; and by Siva, a destroyer and avenger. To these three personages, different functions are assigned, in the Hindoo system of mythologic superstition, corresponding to the different significations of their names. They are distinguished, likewise, besides these general titles, in the various sastras and puranas, by an infinite variety of appellations descriptive of their office.

Whatever doubts may arise respecting the Indian Trinity, they will very speedily be dispelled by a view of that wonderful and magnificent piece of sculpture which is found in the celebrated cavern of Elephanta, which has so often been described by travellers, and which has ever been such a source of amusement to them. This, it is said, proves that from the remotest era, the Indian nations have adored a Triune Deity. In this cavern, the traveller beholds, with awe and astonishment, carved out of the solid rock, in the most conspicuous part of the most ancient and venerable temple in the world, a bust nearly twenty feet in breadth, and eighteen feet in altitude, gorgeously decorated, the image of the great presiding Deity of that sacred temple.[Pg 44] The bust has three heads united to one body, and adorned with the oldest symbols of the Indian theology, is regarded as representing the Creator, the Preserver, and the Regenerator of mankind. Owing to the gross surroundings of these characters, respectively denominated Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, any comparison cannot be instituted with the Christian Trinity; yet the worship paid to that triple divinity incontestably evinces that, on this point of faith, the sentiments of the Indians are congenial with those of the Chaldeans and Persians. Nor is it only in this great Deity with three heads that these sentiments are demonstrated, their veneration for that sacred number strikingly displays itself in their sacred books—the three original Vedas—as if each had been delivered by one personage of the august Triad, being confined to that mystic number; by the regular and prescribed offering up of their devotions three times a day; by the immersion of their bodies, during ablution, three times in the purifying wave; and by their constantly wearing next their skin the sacred Zennar, or cord of three threads, the mystic symbol of their belief in a divine all ruling Triad.

The sacred Zennar, just mentioned, is of consequence enough to demand a fuller notice. Its threads can be twisted by no other hand than that of a Brahmin, and he does it with the utmost solemnity and many mystic rites. Three threads, each measuring ninety-six hands, are first twisted together; then they are folded into three, and twisted again, making it to consist of nine,—that is three times three threads; this is folded again into three, but without any more twisting, and each end is then fastened with a knot. Such is the Zennar, which being put upon the left shoulder, passes to the right side, and hangs down as low as the fingers can reach.

“The Hindoos,” says M. Sonnerat, “adore three principal deities, Brouma, Chiven, and Vichenou, who are still but One;[Pg 45] which kind of Trinity is there called Trimourti, or Tritvamz, and signifies the reunion of three powers. The generality of modern Indians adore only one of these three divinities, but some learned men, besides this worship, also address their prayers to the Three united. The representation of them is to be seen in many pagodas, under that of human figures with three heads, which, on the coast of Orissa, they call Sariharabrama; on the Coromandel coast, Trimourti; and Tretratreyam, in the Sanscrit. It is affirmed by Maurice that this latter term would not have been found in Sanscrit had not the worship of a Trinity existed in those ancient times, fully two thousand five hundred years ago, when Sanscrit was the current language of India.”

There have been found temples entirely consecrated to this kind of Trinity; such as that of Parpenade, in the kingdom of Travancore, where the three gods are worshipped in the form of a serpent with a thousand heads. The feast of Anandavourdon, which the Indians celebrate to their honour, on the eve of the full moon, in the month of Pretachi, or October, always draws a great number of people, “which would not be the case,” says Sonnerat, “if those that came were not adorers of the Three Powers.”

Mr. Forster writing, in 1785, on the Mythology of the Hindoos, says:—“A circumstance which forcibly struck my attention, was the Hindoo belief in a Trinity. The persons are Sree Mun Narrain, the Mhah Letchimy (a beautiful woman), and a Serpent, which are emblematical of strength, love, and wisdom. These persons, by the Hindoos, are supposed to be wholly indivisible. The one is three, and the three are one. In the beginning, they say that the Deity created three men to whom he gave the names of Brimha, Vystnou, and Sheevah. To the first was committed the power of creating mankind, to the second of cherishing them, and to the third that of restraining and correcting them.” The sacred persons who compose this Trinity are[Pg 46] very remarkable; for Sree Mun Narrain, as Mr. Forster writes the word, is Narayen, the supreme God; the beautiful woman is the Imma of the Hebrews; and the union of the sexes in the Divinity, is perfectly consonant with that ancient doctrine maintained in the Geeta, and propagated by Orpheus, that the Deity is both male and female.

Damascius, treating of the fecundity of the divine nature, cites Orpheus as teaching that the Deity was at once both male and female, to show the generative power by which all things were formed. Proclus upon the “Timæus of Plato,” among other Orphic verses, cites the following: “Jupiter is a man, Jupiter is also an immortal maid.” In the same commentary, and in the same page we read that all things were contained in the womb of Jupiter.

The serpent is the ancient and usual Egyptian symbol for the divine Logos.

M. Tavernier, on his entering one of the great pagodas, observed an idol in the centre of the building, sitting cross-legged in the Indian fashion, upon whose head was placed une triple couronne; and from this triple crown four horns extended themselves, the symbol of the rays of glory, denoting the Deity to whom the four quarters of the world were under subjection. According to the same author, in his account of the Benares pagoda, the deity of India is saluted by prostrating the body three times, and he is not only adorned with a triple crown, and worshipped by a triple salutation, but he bears in his hand a three-forked sceptre, exhibiting the exact model of the trident of the Greek Neptune.

Now here we must allude to some very remarkable discoveries respecting the Trident of Neptune and the use of a similar symbol of authority by the Indian gods.

[Pg 47]Mr. Maurice points out that the unsatisfactory reasons given by mythologists for the assignment of the trident to the Grecian deity, exhibit very clear evidence of its being a symbol that was borrowed from some more ancient mythology, and did not naturally, or originally belong to Neptune. Its three points, or tines, some of them affirm to signify the different qualities of the three sorts of waters that are upon the earth, as the waters of the ocean, which are salt; the water of fountains, which is sweet; and the water of lakes and ponds, which, in a degree, partakes of the nature of both. Others, again, insist that this three-pronged sceptre alludes to Neptune’s threefold power over the sea, viz., to agitate, to assuage, and to preserve. These reasons are, all of them, in his estimation, mighty frivolous, and amount to a confession of their total ignorance of its real meaning.

The trident was, in the most ancient periods, the sceptre of the Indian deity, and may be seen in the hands of that deity in one of the plates (iv.) of M. d’Ancarville’s third volume, and among the sacred symbols sculptured in Elephanta cavern, as pictured by Niebuhr in his engravings of the Elephanta antiquities. “It was, indeed,” says Maurice, “highly proper, and strictly characteristic, that a threefold deity should wield a triple sceptre, and I have now a very curious circumstance to unfold to the reader, which I am enabled to do from the information of Mr. Hodges, relative to this mysterious emblem. The very ancient and venerable edifices of Deogur, which are in the form of immense pyramids, do not terminate at the summit in a pyramidal point, for the apex is cut off at about one seventh of what would be the entire height of the pyramid were it completed, and, from the centre of the top, there rises a circular cone, that ancient emblem of the sun. What is exceedingly singular to these cones is, that they are on their summits decorated with this very symbol, or usurped sceptre, of the Greek Ποσειδων. [Pg 48] Thus was the outside of the building decorated and crowned, as it were, with a conspicuous emblem of the worship celebrated within, which from the antiquity of the structure, raised in the infancy of the empire after cavern-worship had ceased, was probably that of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva: for we have seen that Elephanta is, in fact, a temple to the Indian Triad, evidenced in the colossal sculpture that forms the principal figure of it, and excavated probably ere Brahma had fallen into neglect among those who still acknowledge him as the creative energy, or different sects had sprung up under the respective names of Vishnu and Siva. Understood with reference to the pure theology of India, such appears to me to be the meaning of this mistaken symbol; but a system of physical theology quickly succeeded to the pure; and the debased, but ingenious, progeny, who invented it, knew too well how to adapt the symbols and images of the true and false devotion. The three sublime hypostases of the true Trinity were degraded into three attributes; in physical causes the sacred mysteries of religion were attempted to be explained away; its doctrines were corrupted, and its emblems perverted. They went the absurd length of degrading a Creator (for such Brahma, in the Hindoo creed, confessedly is) to the rank of a created Dewtah, which has been shewn to be a glaring solecism in theology.

“The evident result then is, that, nothwithstanding all the corruption of the purer theology of the Brahmins, by the base alloy of human philosophy, under the perverted notion of three attributes, the Indians have immemorially worshipped a threefold Divinity, who, considered apart from their physical notions, is the Creator, the Preserver, and the Regenerator. We must again repeat that it would be in the highest degree absurd to continue to affix the name of Destroyer to the third hypostasis in their Triad, when it is notorious that the Brahmins deny that[Pg 49] anything can be destroyed, and insist that a change alone in the form of objects and their mode of existence takes place. One feature, therefore, in that character, hostile to our system, upon strict examination vanishes; and the other feature, which creates so much disgust and gives such an air of licentiousness to his character, is annihilated by the consideration of their deep immersion in philosophical speculations, of their incessant endeavours to account for the divine operations by natural causes, and to explain them by palpable and visible symbols.”

No image of the supreme Brahma himself is ever made; but in place of it his attributes are arranged, as in the temple of Gharipuri, thus:

Brahma Power Creation Matter The Past Earth
Vishnu Wisdom Preservation Spirit The Present Water
Siva Justice Destruction Time The Future Fire

Captain Wilford in the 10th vol. of the Asiatic Researches writes of Meru or Moriah, the hill of God, and he says:—“Polyænus calls Mount Meru or Merius, Tri-coryphus. It is true that he bestows improperly that epithet on Mount Meru, near Cabul, which is inadmissible. Meru, with its three peaks on the summit, and its seven steps, includes and encompasses really the whole world, according to the notions of the Hindus and other nations previously to their being acquainted with the globular shape of the earth.” Basnage, in his history of the Jews, says “there are seven earths, whereof one is higher than the other; for the Holy Land is situated upon the highest earth, and Mount Moriah (or Meru) is in the middle of that Holy Land. This is the hill of God so often mentioned in the Old Testament, the mount of the congregation where the mighty King sits in the sides of the north, according to Isaiah, and there is the city of our God. The Meru of the Hindoos has the name of Sabha, or the congregation, and the gods are seated upon it in the sides of[Pg 50] the north. There is the holy city of Brahma-puri, where resides Brahma with his court in the most pure and holy land of Ilavratta.”

Thus Meru is the worldly temple of the Supreme Being in an embodied state, and of the Tri-Murtti or sacred Triad, which resides on its summit, either in a single or threefold temple, or rather in both: for it is all one, as they are one and three. They are three, only with regard to men who have emerged out of it they are but one: and their threefold temple and mountain, with its three peaks, become one equally. Mythologists in the west called the world, or Meru with his appendages, the temple of God, according to Macrobius. Hence this most sacred temple of the Supreme Being is generally typified by a cone or pyramid, with either a single chapel on its summit, or with three; either with or without steps.

This worldly temple is also considered by the followers of Buddha as the tomb of the son of the spirit of heaven. His bones, or limbs, were scattered all over the face of the earth, like those of Osiris and Jupiter Zagreus. To collect them was the first duty of his descendants and followers, and then to entomb them. Out of filial piety, the remembrance of this mournful search was yearly kept up by a fictitious one, with all possible marks of grief and sorrow, till a priest came and announced that the sacred relics were at last found. This is practised to this day by several Tartarian tribes of the religion of Buddha; and the expression of the bones of the son of the spirit of heaven is peculiar to the Chinese, and some tribes in Tartary.

Hindu writers represent Narayana moving, as his name implies, on the waters, in the character of the first male, and the principle of all nature, which was wholly surrounded in the beginning by tamas, or darkness, the Chaos and primordial Night of the Greek mythologists, and, perhaps, the Thaumaz or Thamas[Pg 51] of the ancient Egyptians; the Chaos is also called Pracriti, or crude Nature, and the male deity has the name of Purusha, from whom proceeded Sacti, or, the power of containing or conceiving; but that power in its first state was rather a tendency or aptitude, and lay dormant and inert until it was excited by the bija, or vivifying principle, of the plastic Iswara. This power, or aptitude, of nature is represented under the symbol of the yoni, or bhaga, while the animating principle is expressed by the linga: both are united by the creative power, Brahma; and the yoni has been called the navel of Vishnu—not identically, but nearly; for, though it is held in the Vedanta that the divine spirit penetrates or pervades all nature, and though the Sacti be considered as an emanation from that spirit, yet the emanation is never wholly detached from its source, and the penetration is never so perfect as to become a total union or identity. In another point of view Brahma corresponds with the Chronos, or Time of the Greek mythologists: for through him generations pass on successively, ages and periods are by him put in motion, terminated and renewed, while he dies and springs to birth alternately; his existence or energy continuing for a hundred of his years, during which he produces and devours all beings of less longevity. Vishnu represents water, or the humid principle; and Iswara fire, which recreates or destroys, as it is differently applied; Prithivi, or earth, and Ravi, or the sun, are severally trimurtis, or forms of the three great powers acting jointly and separately, but with different natures and energies, and by their mutual action excite and expand the rudiments of material substances. The word murti, or form, is exactly synonymous with είδωλα, of the supreme spirit, and Homer places the idol of Hercules in Elysium with other deceased heroes, though the God himself was at the same time enjoying bliss in the heavenly mansions. Such a murti, say the Hindus, can by no means[Pg 52] affect with any sensation, either pleasing or painful, the being from which it emanated; though it may give pleasure or pain to collateral emanations from the same source; hence they offer no sacrifices to the supreme Essence, of which our own souls are images, but adore Him with silent meditation; while they make frequent homas or oblations to fire, and perform acts of worship to the sun, the stars, the earth, and the powers of nature, which they consider as murtis, or images, the same in kind with ourselves, but transcendently higher in degree. The moon is also a great object of their adoration; for, though they consider the sun and earth as the two grand agents in the system of the universe, yet they know their reciprocal action to be greatly affected by the influence of the lunar orb according to their several aspects, and seem even to have an idea of attraction through the whole extent of nature. This system was known to the ancient Egyptians; for according to Diodorus, their Vulcan, or elemental fire, was the great and powerful deity, whose influence contributed chiefly toward the generation and perfection of natural bodies; while the ocean, by which they meant water in a collective sense, afforded the nutriment that was necessary; and the earth was the vase, or capacious receptacle, in which this grand operation of nature was performed: hence Orpheus described the earth as the universal mother, and this is the true meaning of the Sanscrit word Amba.

Further information respecting the male and female forms of the Trimurti has been gathered as follows:—

Atropos (or Raudri), who is placed about the sun, is the beginning of generation; exactly like the destructive power, or Siva among the Hindus, and who is called the cause and the author of generation: Clotho, about the celestial moon, unites and mixes: the last, or Lachesis, is contiguous to the earth: but is greatly under the influence of chance. For whatever being[Pg 53] is destitute of a sensitive soul, does not exist of its own right; but must submit to the affections of another principle: for the rational soul is of its own right impassable, and is not obnoxious to affections from another quarter. The sensitive soul is a mediate and mixed being, like the moon, which is a compound of what is above and of what is below; and is to the sun in the same relation as the earth is to the moon. Major Wilford says:—“Well Pliny might say, with great truth, the refinements of the Druids were such, that one would be tempted to believe that those in the east had largely borrowed from them. This certainly surpasses everything of the kind I have ever read or heard in India.”

These three goddesses are obviously the Parcœ, or fates, of the western mythologists, which were three and one. This female tri-unity is really the Tri-murtti of the Hindus, who call it the Sacti, or energy of the male Tri-murtti, which in reality is the same thing. Though the male tri-unity be oftener mentioned, and better known among the unlearned than the other; yet the female one is always understood with the other, because the Trimurtti cannot act, but through its energy, or Sacti, which is of the feminine gender. The male Trimurtti was hardly known in the west, for Jupiter, Pluto, and Neptune have no affinity with the Hindu Trimurtti, except their being three in number. The real Trimurtti of the Greeks and Latians consisted of Cronus, Jupiter and Mars, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. To these three gods were dedicated three altars in the upper part of the great circus at Rome. These are brothers in their Calpas; and Cronus or Brahma, who has no Calpa of his own, produces them, and of course may be considered as their father. Thus Brahma creates in general; but Vishnu in his own Calpa, assumes the character of Cronus or Brahma to create, and he is really Cronus or Brahma: he is then called Brahma-rupi Janardana,[Pg 54] or Vishnu, the devourer of souls, with the countenance of Brahma: he is the preserver of his own character.

These three were probably the Tripatres of the western mythologists, called also Tritopatores, Tritogeneia, Tris-Endaimon, Trisolbioi, Trismacaristoi, and Propatores. The ancients were not well agreed who they were: some even said that they were Cottus, Briareus, and Gyges, the sons of Tellus and the sun. Others said that they were Amalcis, Protocles, and Protocless, the door-keepers and guardians of the minds. Their mystical origin probably belonged to the secret doctrine, which the Roman college, like the Druids, never committed to writing, and were forbidden to reveal. As the ancients swore by them, there can be little doubt but that they were the three great deities of their religion.

Disentangling the somewhat intricate and involved web of Indian mythology, and putting the matter as simply as possible, we may say the deities are only three, whose places are the earth, the intermediate region, and heaven, namely Fire, Air, and the Sun. They are pronounced to be deities of the mysterious names severally, and (Prajapati) the lord of creatures is the deity of them collectively. The syllable O’ru intends every deity: it belongs to (Paramasht’hi) him who dwells in the supreme abode; it pertains to (Brahma) the vast one; to (Deva) God; to (Ad’hyatma) the superintending soul. Other deities, belonging to those several regions, are portions of the three gods; for they are variously named and described on account of their different operations, but there is only one deity, the Great Soul (Mahanatma). He is called the Sun, for he is the soul of all beings. The Sun, the soul of (jagat) what moves, and of that which is fixed; other deities are portions of him.

The name given by the Indians to their Supreme Deity, or Monad, is Brahm; and notwithstanding the appearance of[Pg 55] materialism in all their sacred books, the Brahmins never admit that they uphold such a doctrine, but invest their deities with the highest attributes. He is represented as the Vast One, self-existing, invisible, eternal, imperceptible, the only deity, the great soul, the over-ruling soul, the soul of all beings, and of whom all other deities are but portions. To him no sacrifices were ever offered; but he was adored in silent meditation. He triplicates himself into three persons or powers, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer, or Reproducer; and is designated by the word Om or Aum by the respective letters of which sacred triliteral syllable are expressed the powers into which he triplicates himself.

The Metempsychosis and succession of similar worlds, alternately destroyed by flood and fire and reproduced, were doctrines universally received among the heathens: and by the Indians, the world, after the lapse of each predestined period of its existence, was thought to be destroyed by Siva. At each appointed time of its destruction, Vishnu ceases from his preserving care, and sleeps beneath the waters: but after the allotted period, from his navel springs forth a lotus to the surface, bearing Brahma in its cup, who reorganises the world, and when he has performed his work, retires, leaving to Vishnu its government and preservation; when all the same heroes and persons reappear, and similar events are again transacted, till the time arrives for another dissolution.

After the construction of the world by Brahma, the office of its preservation is assumed by Vishnu. His chief attribute is Wisdom: he is the Air, Water, Humidity in general, Space, and sometimes, though rarely, Earth: he is Time present, and the middle: and he is the Sun in the evening and at night. His colour is blue or blackish; his Vahan, the Eagle named Garuda;[Pg 56] his allotted place, the Air or intermediate region, and he symbolises Unity. It is he who most commonly appears in the Avatars or Incarnations, of which nine in number are recorded as past: the most celebrated of which are his incarnations as Mateya or the Fish Rama, Krishna, and Buddha: the tenth of Kalki, or the Horse, is yet to come. It is from him that Brahma springs when he proceeds to his office of creation.

The destroying and regenerating power, Siva, Maha-deva, Iswara, or Routrem is regarded metaphysically as Justice, and physically as Fire or Heat, and sometimes Water. He is the Sun at noon: his colour is white, with a blue throat, but sometimes red; his Vahan is the bull, and his place of residence the heaven. As destruction in the material world is but change or production in another form, and was so held by almost all the heathen philosophers, we find that the peculiar emblems of Siva are, as we have already shown, the Trident, the symbol of destruction; and the Linga or Phallus, of regeneration.

The three deities were called Trimurtti, and in the caverns of Ellora they are united in a Triune bust. They are collectively symbolized by the triangle. Vishnu, as Humidity personified, is also represented by an inverted triangle, and Siva by a triangle erect, as a personification of Fire; while the Monad Brahm is represented by the circle as Eternity, and by a point as having neither length, nor breadth, as self-existing, and containing nothing. The Brahmans deny materialism; yet it is asserted by Mr. Wilford, that, when closely interrogated on the title of Deva or God, which their most sacred books give to the Sun, they avoid a direct answer, and often contradict themselves and one another. The supreme divinity of the Sun, however, is constantly asserted in their scriptures; and the holiest verse in the Vedas, which is called the Gayatri, is:—“Let us adore the supremacy of that divine sun, the Godhead, who illuminates all,[Pg 57] who recreates all, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, whom we invoke to direct our understanding aright in our progress towards his holy seat.”

It has been said that in India is to be found the most ancient form of that Trinitarian worship which prevails in nearly every quarter of the known world. Be that as it may, it is not in India where the most remarkable phase of the worship is to be found; for that we turn to Egypt. Here we meet with the strange fact that no two cities worshipped the same triad. “The one remarkable feature in nearly all these triads is that they are father, mother, and son; that is, male and female principles of nature, with their product.”

Mariette Bey says:—“According to places, the attributes by which the Divine Personage is surrounded are modified; but in each temple the triad would appear as a symbol destined to affirm the eternity of being. In all triads, the principal god gives birth to himself. Considered as a Father, he remains the great god adored in temples. Considered as a Son, he becomes, by a sort of doubling, the third person of the triad. But the Father and the Son are not less the one god, while, being double, the first is the eternal god; the second is but the living symbol destined to affirm the strength of the other. The father engenders himself in the womb of the mother, and thus becomes at once his own father and his own son. Thereby are expressed the uncreatedness and the eternity of the being who has had no beginning, and who shall have no end.”

Generally speaking, the gods of Egypt were grouped in sets of three, each city having its own Trinity. Thus in Memphis we find Ptah, Pasht and Month; in Thebes, Amun-Ra, Athor and Chonso; in Ethiopia, Noum, Sate and Anucis; in Hermonthis, Monthra, Reto and Harphre; in Lower Egypt, Seb, Netphe and Osiris; in Thinnis, Osiris, Isis and Anhur; in Abousimbel and[Pg 58] Derr, Ptah, Amun-Ra and Horus-Ra; in Esné, Neph, Neboo and Haké; in Dabad, Seb, Netpe and Mandosti; in Ambos, Savak, Athor and Khonso; in Edfou, Horket, Hathor and Horsenedto. The trinity common throughout the land is that of Osiris, Isis and Horus.

Dr. Cudworth translates Jamblichus as follows, quoting from the Egyptian Hermetic Books in defining the Egyptian Trinity:—“Hermes places the god Emeph as the prince and ruler over all the celestial gods, whom he affirmeth to be a Mind understanding himself, and converting his cogitations or intellections into himself. Before which Emeph he placeth one indivisible, whom he calleth Eicton, in which is the first intelligible, and which is worshipped only by silence. After which two, Eicton and Emeph, the demiurgic mind and president of truth, as with wisdom it proceedeth to generations, and bringeth forth the hidden powers of the occult reasons with light, is called in the Egyptian language Ammon: as it artificially affects all things with truth, Phtha; as it is productive of good, Osiris; besides other names that it hath according to its other powers and energies.” Upon this, Dr. Cudworth remarks:—“How well these three divine hypostases of the Egyptians agree with the Pythagoric or Platonic Trinity of,—first, Unity and Goodness itself; secondly, Mind; and, thirdly, Soul,—I need not here declare. Only we shall call to mind what hath been already intimated, that Reason or Wisdom, which was the Demiurgus of the world, and is properly the second of the fore-mentioned hypostases, was called also, among the Egyptians by another name, Cneph; from whom was said to have been produced or begotten the God Phtha, the third hypostasis of the Egyptian Trinity; so that Cneph and Emeph are all one. Wherefore, we have here plainly an Egyptian Trinity of divine hypostases subordinate, Eicton, Emeph or Cneph, and Phtha.”

[Pg 59]Mr. Sharpe, in his Egyptian Inscriptions, mentions the fact that there is in the British Museum a hieroglyphical inscription as early as the reign of Sevechus of the eighth century before the Christian Era, showing that the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity already formed part of their religion, and stating that in each of the two groups, Isis, Nephthis and Osiris, and Osiris, Isis, and Horus, the three gods made only one person. Also that the sculptured figures on the lid of the sarcophagus of Rameses III., now at Cambridge, show us the King, not only as one of a group of three gods, but also as a Trinity in Unity in his own person. “He stands between the goddesses, Isis and Nepthys, who embrace him as if he were the lost Osiris, whom they have now found again. We further know him to be in the character of Osiris by the two sceptres which he holds; but at the same time the horns upon his head are those of the goddess Athor, and the ball and feathers above are the ornaments of the god Ra.”

Nearly all writers describe the Egyptian Trinity as consisting of the generative, the destructive, and the preserving powers. Isis answers to Siva. Iswara, or Lord, is the epithet of Siva. Osiris, or Ysiris, as Hellanicus wrote the Egyptian name, was the God at whose birth a voice was heard to declare, “that the Lord of all nature sprang forth to light.”

A peculiar feature in the ancient trinities is the way in which the worship of the first person is lost or absorbed in the second, few or no temples being found dedicated to Brahma. Something very much like this often occurs among Christians; we are surrounded by churches dedicated to the second and third persons in the trinity, and to saints, and to the Mother of Christ, but none to the Father.

It has been noticed that while we find inscribed upon the monuments of Egypt a vast multitude of gods, as in India,[Pg 60] the number diminishes as we ascend. Amun Ra alone is found dedicated upon the oldest monuments, in three distinct forms, into one or other of whose characters all the other divinities may be resolved. Amun was the chief god, the sacred name, corresponding with the Aum of the Indians, also, probably, the Egyptian On. According to Mr. Wilkinson, the Egyptians held Kneph, Neph, Nef, or Chnoubus, “as the idea of the Spirit of God which moved upon the face of the waters.” He was the Spirit, animating and perpetuating the world, and penetrating all its parts; the same with the Agathodæmon of the Phœnicians, and like him, was symbolized by the snake, an emblem of the Spirit which pervades the universe. He was commonly represented with a Ram’s head; and though the colour of the Egyptian divinities is perhaps more commonly green than any other, he is as frequently depicted blue. He was the god of the Nile, which is indirectly confirmed by Pindar; and by Ptolemy, who says that the Egyptians gave the name of Agathodæmon to the western, or Heracleotic branch. From his mouth proceeded the Mundane egg, from which sprung Phtah, the creative power. Mr. Wilkinson proceeds:—“Having separated the Spirit from the Creator, and purposing to act apart and defy each attribute, which presented itself to their imagination, they found it necessary to form another deity from the creative power, whom they call Phtah, proceeding from the former, and thence deemed the son of Kneph. Some difference was observed between the power, which created the world, and that which caused and ruled over the generation of man, and continued to promote the continuation of the human species. This latter attribute of the divinity was deified under the appellation Khem. Thus was the supreme deity known by the three distinct names of,

Kneph, Phthah, Khem:

to these were joined the goddesses Sate, Neith, and Buto; and[Pg 61] the number of the eight deities was completed by the addition of Ra, or Amun-Ra,” this last, however, was not a distinct god, but a name common to each person of the triad: and, indeed, to all the three names above the name of Amun was constantly prefixed.[9]

Phthah corresponds with the Indian Brahma, and the Orphic Phanes, and appears in several other forms. In one form he is represented as an infant—often as an infant Priapæan figure, and deformed.

The deity called Khem by Mr. Wilkinson, and Mendes by Champollion, is common on the monuments of Egypt, and is recognised as corresponding with the Pan of the Greeks. His chief attribute is heat, which aids the continuation of the various species, and he is generally coloured red, though sometimes blue, with his right arm extended upwards. His principal emblems are a triple-thonged Flagellum and a Phallus. He corresponds with Siva of the Indians, his attributes being similar, viz., Destroying and Regenerating. He is the god of generation, and, like Siva, has his Phallic emblem of reproduction; the triple-thonged flagellum is regarded by some as a variation of the trident, or of the axe of Siva. He has for a vahan the Bull Mneuis, as Sivi has the Bull Nandi. The Goat Mendes was also consecrated to him as an emblem of heat and generation; and it is well known that this animal is constantly placed in the hands of Siva. “In short,” says Mr. Cory, “there is scarcely a shade of distinction between Khem and Siva: the Egyptians venerated the same deity as the Indians, in his generative character as Khem, when they suspended the flagellum, the instrument of vengeance, over his right hand; but in his destroying character, as the ruler of the dead, as Osiris, when they placed the flagellum in his hands as the trident is in that character placed in the hand of Siva.”

[Pg 62]In the Chaldean oracles, so far as they have been preserved, the doctrine of a triad is found everywhere. Allowing for the existence of much that is forged amongst these oracles, as suggested by Mr. Cory and others, we may reasonably conclude that there still remains a deal that is ancient and authentic. They teach as a fundamental tenet that a triad shines throughout the whole world, over which a Monad rules. This triad is Father, Power, and Intellect, having probably once been Air, Fire, and Sun.

Amongst the Laplanders the Supreme God was worshipped as Jumala, and three gods were recognised as subordinate to him. The first was Thor of the Edda; the second Storjunkare, his vicegerent, the common household god; and the third Beywe, the Sun.

With regard to the Phœnicians and Syrians, Photius states that the Kronus of both was known under the names of El, Bel, and Bolathen.

The Sidonians, Eudemus said, placed before all things Chronus, Pothas, and Omichles, rendered by Damascius as Time, Love, and Cloudy Darkness, regarded by some as no other than the Khem, Phthah, and Amun Kneph of the Egyptians.

The Heracles or Hercules of the Greeks, known as Arcles of the Tyrians, was a triple divinity, described by Hieronymus as a dragon, with the heads of a bull, of a lion, and of a man with wings.

Among the Philistines also we find their chief god Dragon, who is the Ouranus of Sanchoniatho. It appears also that Baal was a triple Divinity: while Chemosh, the abomination of the Moabites, and Baal Peor, of the Midians, seem to be the Priapæan Khem of Egypt, the god of heat and generation. The Edessenes also held the triad, and placed Monimus and Azizus as contemplars with the Sun.[10]



[Pg 63]


The Supreme God of the Peruvians—Assumed Origin of the Trinity Idea in the Patriarchal Age—Welsh Ideas—Druidical Triads—The Ancient Religion of America—The Classics and Heathen Triads—The Tritopatoreia—The Virgin Mary—The Virgin amongst the Heathen—Universality of the Belief in a Trinity—The Dahomans.


The Supreme God of the Peruvians, was called Viracocha; known also as Pachacarnac, Soul of the world, Usapu admirable, and other names.

Garcilazo says, “he was considered as the giver of life, sustainer and nourisher of all things, but because they did not see him, they erected no temples to him nor offered sacrifices; however they worshipped him in their hearts, and esteemed him for the unknown God.”

Generally, speaking, the sun was the great object of Peruvian idolatry during the dominion of the Incas. Its worship was the most solemn, and its temples the most splendid in their furniture and decorations, and the common people, no doubt, reverenced that luminary as their chief god.

Herrera mentions the circumstance that at one of the festivals, they exhibited three statues of the sun, each of which had a particular name, which as he translated them were Father and Lord Sun, the Son Sun, and the Brother Sun. He also says, “that at Chucuisaea, they worshipped an idol called Tangatanga, which they said was three and one.”

The Spanish writers consider this doctrine to have been stolen by the devil from Christianity, and imparted by him to this people. By this opinion they evidently declare its antiquity in Peru to have been greater than the time of the Spanish conquest.

[Pg 64]Those writers and scholars who refuse to believe that the doctrine of the Trinity as taught in the Christian religion, was known during the patriarchal or judaical dispensations, and therefore will not allow that the trinity of the Peruvians had any reference to the dogma of Christianity, contend that their trinity was founded in those early corruptions of patriarchal history, in which men began to represent Adam, and his three sons; and Noah, and his three sons; as being triplicates of the same essential person, who originally was the universal father of the human race: and secondly, being triplicated in their three sons, who also were considered the fathers of mankind. They say therefore, Adam and Noah were each the father of three sons; and to the persons of the latter of these triads, by whose descendants the world was repeopled, the whole habitable earth was assigned in a threefold division. This matter, though it sometimes appears in an undisguised form, was usually wrapped up in the cloak of the most profound mystery. Hence instead of plainly saying, that the mortal who had flourished in the golden age and who was venerated as the universal demon father both of gods and men, was the parent of three sons, they were wont to declare, that the great father had wonderfully triplicated himself.

Pursuing this vein of mysticism, they contrived to obscure the triple division of the habitable globe among the sons of Noah, just as much as the characters of the three sons themselves. A very ancient notion universally prevailed that some such triple division had once taken place; and the hierophants when they had elevated Noah and his three sons to the rank of deity, proceeded to ring a variety of corresponding changes upon that celebrated threefold distribution. Noah was esteemed the universal sovereign of the world; but, when he branched out into three kings (i.e., triplicating himself into his three sons),[Pg 65] that world was to be divided into three kingdoms, or, as they were sometimes styled, three worlds. To one of these kings was assigned the empire of heaven; to another, the empire of the earth, including the nether regions of Tartarus; to a third, the empire of the ocean.

So again, when Noah became a god, the attributes of deity were inevitably ascribed to him, otherwise, he would plainly have become incapable of supporting his new character: yet even in the ascription of such attributes, the genuine outlines of his history were never suffered to be wholly forgotten. He had witnessed the destruction of one world, the new creation (or regeneration) of another, and the oath of God that he would surely preserve mankind from the repetition of such a calamity as the deluge. Hence when he was worshipped as a hero-god, he was revered in the triple character of the destroyer, the creator, and the preserver. And when he was triplicated into three cognate divinities, were produced three gods, different, yet fundamentally the same, one mild though awful as the creator; another gentle and beneficent as the preserver; a third, sanguinary, ferocious, and implacable as the destroyer.[11]

The idea of a trinity was rather curiously developed amongst the Druids, especially amongst the Welsh. They used a number of triplicated sentences as summaries of matters relating to their religion, history, and science, in order that these things might be the more easily committed to memory and handed down to future generations. The triads were these:—

1. There are three primeval Unities, and more than one of each cannot exist:

One God;
One Truth;
One Point of Liberty, where all opposites equiponderate.

[Pg 66]2. Three things proceed from the primeval unities:

All of Life;
All that is Good; and
All Power.

3. God consists necessarily of three things:

The Greatest of Life;
The Greatest of Knowledge; and
The Greatest of Power.[12]

The Druids venerated the Bull and Eagle as emblems of the god Hu, and like the Jews and Indians, “made use of a term, only known to themselves, to express the unutterable name of the Deity, and the letters OIW were used for that purpose.”

From Herodotus, Aristotle, Plutarch, and others, we get information concerning the triads amongst the Persians, and which were similar in many respects to those recognised by other eastern nations. Oromasdes and Arimanes were ruling principles always in opposition to each other, viz., good and evil, and springing from light and darkness, which they are said to have most resembled. Eudemus says, “they proceeded from Place or Time.” Oromasdes was looked upon as the whole expanse of heaven, and was considered by the Greeks as identical with Zeus. He was the Preserver; and Arimanes, the Destroyer. Between them, according to Plutarch was Mithras, the Mediator, who was regarded as the Sun, as Light, as Intellect, and as the creator of all things. He was a triple deity and was said to have triplicated himself. The Leontine mysteries were instituted in his honour, the lion being consecrated to him, and the Sun was represented by the emblems of the Bull, the Lion, and the Hawk, united.

In the ancient religions of America, a species of trinity was recognised altogether different to that of Christianity or the[Pg 67] Trimurti of India. In some of the ancient poems a triple nature is actually ascribed to storms; and in the Quiché legends we read: “The first of Hurakan is the lightning, the second the track of the lightning, and the third the stroke of the lightning; and these three are Hurakan the Heat of the Sky.”

In the Iroquois mythology the same thing is found. Heno was thunder, and three assistants were assigned to him whose offices were similar to those of the companions of Hurakan.

Heno was said to gather the clouds and pour out the warm rain; he was the patron of husbandry, and was invoked at seedtime and harvest. As the purveyor of nourishment, he was addressed as grandfather, and his worshippers styled themselves his grandchildren.

Amongst the Aztecs, Tlaloc, the god of rain and water, manifested himself under the three attributes of the flash, the thunderbolt, and the thunder.

But this conception of three in one, says Brinton, “was above the comprehension of the masses, and consequently these deities were also spoken of as fourfold in nature, three and one.” Moreover, as has already been pointed out, the thunder-god was usually ruler of the winds, and thus another reason for his quadruplicate nature was suggested. Hurakan, Haokah, Tlaloc, and probably Heno, are plural as well as singular nouns, and are used as nominatives to verbs in both numbers. Tlaloc was appealed to as inhabiting each of the cardinal points and every mountain top. His statue rested on a square stone pedestal, facing the east, and had in one hand a serpent in gold. Ribbons of silver, crossing to form squares, covered the robe, and the shield was composed of feathers of four colours, yellow, green, red and blue. Before it was a vase containing all sorts of grain; and the clouds were called his companions, the winds his messengers. As elsewhere, the thunderbolts were believed to be[Pg 68] flints, and thus, as the emblem of fire and the storm, this stone figures conspicuously in their myths. Tohil, the god who gave the Quichés fire by shaking his sandals, was represented by a flint-stone. He is distinctly said to be the same as Quetzelcoatl, one of whose commonest symbols was a flint. Such a stone, in the beginning of things, fell from heaven to earth, and broke into 1600 pieces, each of which sprang up a god; an ancient legend, which shadows forth the subjection of all things to him who gathers the clouds from the four corners of the earth, who thunders with his voice, who satisfies with his rain the desolate and waste ground, and causes the tended herb to spring forth. This is the germ of the adoration of stones as emblems of the fecundating rains. This is why, for example, the Navajos use as their charm for rain certain long round stones, which they think fall from the clouds when it thunders.

It is said that all over Africa, belief in a trinity of gods is found, the same to-day as has prevailed at least for forty centuries, and perhaps for very much longer. Chaldæa, Assyria, and the temple of Erektheus, on the Acropolis of Athens, honoured and sacrificed to Zeus (the Sun, Hercules, or Phallic idea) the Serpent and Ocean; and Africa still does so to the Tree-Stem or Pole, the Serpent, and the Sea or Water; and this Trinity is one god, and yet serves to divide all gods into three classes, of which these are types.

Important and interesting notices relative to the nature of the deities worshipped by the ancients are to be found in the treatise of Julius Firmicus Maternus, “De Errore Profanarum Religionum ad Constantium, et Constantem Angg.” Firmicus attributes to the Persians a belief in the androgynous nature of the deity [naturam ejus (jovis) ad utriusque sexus transferentes]. No doubt this doctrine has always been recognised, by many writers, as being held by the philosophers of India and Egypt,[Pg 69] and that it constituted a part of the creed of Orpheus, but its connection with Persia has not been so generally acknowledged.

Firmicus, after speaking of the two-fold powers of Jupiter (that is, the deity being both male and female) adds, “when they choose to give a visible representation of him, they sculpture him as a female.” Again, they represent him as a female with three heads. It was a figure adorned with serpents of a monstrous size. It was venerated under the symbol of fire. It was called Mithra. It was worshipped in secret caverns. The rites of Mithra were familiar to the Romans, but they worshipped them in a manner different from the Persian ceremonies. Firmicus had seen Mithra sculptured in two different ways: in one piece of sculpture he was represented as a female with three faces, and infolded with serpents; and in another piece of sculpture he was represented as seizing a bull.

Classic writers abound with references, not simply to a plurality of gods among the heathen, but to a trinity in unity and unity in trinity, sometimes approaching in the similarity of their broad outlines the doctrine as held by orthodox religionists. Herodotus calls the deity of the Pelasgians, Gods, and it is admitted that the passage evidently implies that the expression was used by the priests of Dodona. The Pelasgians worshipped the Cabiri, and the Cabiri were originally three in number, hence it is inferred that these Cabiri were the Pelasgian Trinity, and that having in ancient times no name which would have implied a diversity of gods, they worshipped a trinity in unity. The worship of the Cabiri by the Pelasgians is evident, for Herodotus says, in his second book, “that the Samothracians learnt the Cabiric mysteries from the Pelasgians, who once inhabited that island, and afterwards settled in Greece, near Attica.” Cicero testifies that the Cabiri were originally three in number, and he carefully distinguishes them from the Dioscuri. A passage in[Pg 70] Pausanias states that at Tritia, a city of Achaia, there is a temple erected to the Dii Magni (or Cabiri); their images are a representation of a god made of clay. “We need not be surprised,” said a writer once, “that Pausanias should be puzzled how to express the fact that, though it was the temple of the three Cabiri, yet there was only one image in it. Is not this the doctrine of a trinity in unity?”

Potter informs us that those who desired to have children were usually very liberal to the gods, who were thought to preside over generation. The same writer also says:—“Who these were, or what was the origination of their name, is not easy to determine: Orpheus, as cited by Phanodemus in Suidas, makes their proper names to be Amaclides, Protocles, and Protocleon, and will have them to preside over the winds; Demo makes them to be the winds themselves.” Another author tells us their names were “Cottus, Briareus, and Gyges, and that they were the sons of heaven and of earth: Philocrus likewise makes earth their mother, but instead of heaven, substitutes the sun, or Apollo, for their father, where he seems to account, as well for their being accounted the superintendents of generation, as for the name of τριτοπατερες; for being immediately descended from two immortal gods, themselves,” saith he, “were thought the third fathers, and therefore might well be esteemed the common parents of mankind, and from that opinion derive those honours, which the Athenians paid them as the authors and presidents of human generation.”

Again, the Tritopatoreia was a solemnity in which it was usual to pray for children to the gods of generation, who were sometimes called tritopateres. The names of the Cabiri, as Cicero says, are Tritopatreus, Eubuleus, and Dionysius: this fact is supposed to give us a little insight into the origin of the word tritopateres, or tritopatreis. Philocrus, as we have seen, makes[Pg 71] them the sons of Apollo and of the earth: this fact will help us to develop the truth: the two last hypostases emanated from the Creator: thus in the Egyptian Trinity of Osiris, of Isis, and of Horus, Isis is not only the consort, but the daughter of Osiris, and Horus was the fruit of their embrace, thus in the Scandinavian Trinity of Adin, of Trea, and of Thor, Trea is not only the wife, but the daughter of Odin, and Thor was the fruit of their embrace, as Maillet observes in his Northern Antiquities (vol. ii.), there is the Roman Trinity of Jupiter, of Juno, and of Minerva, Juno is the sister and the wife of Jupiter, and Minerva is the daughter of Jupiter: now, it is a singular fact, that in the Pelasgic Trinity of the Cabirim, two of them are said to have been the sons of Vulcan, or the Sun, as we read in Potter (vol. i.) Hence we see, it has been contended, the mistake of Philocrus: there were not three emanations from the Sun, as he supposes, but only two: their name tritopateres, which alludes to the doctrine of the trinity, puzzled Philocrus, who knew nothing of the doctrine, and he is credited with coining the story, to account for this appellation: the Cabiri were, as is known from Cicero, called Tritopatreus, Dionysius, and Eubuleus. Dionysius is Osiris, and Eubuleus and Tritopatreus are the two hypostases, which emanated from him: the name of the third hypostasis is generally compounded of some word which signifies the third: hence Minerva derived her name of Tritonis, or Tritonia Virgo: hence Minerva is called by Hesiod (referred to in Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary), Tritogenia: hence came the Tritia, of which Pausanias speaks: hence came the Tritopatreus of Cicero: hence came the Thridi of the Scandinavians. We read in the Edda these remarkable words: “He afterwards beheld three thrones raised one above another, and on each throne sat a man; upon his asking which of these was their king, his guide answered, ‘he who sits upon the lowest throne is the king, and[Pg 72] his name is Hor, or the Lofty One: the second is Jaenhar, that is Equal to the Lofty One; but he who sits upon the highest throne is called Thridi, or the Third.’”

Pausanias has a number of passages which bear upon this subject, and seem to prove conclusively that the Greeks recognised the doctrine of a trinity in unity and worshipped the same. In his second book he says: “Beyond the tomb of Pelasgus is a small structure of brass, which supports the images of Diana, of Jupiter, and of Minerva, a work of some antiquity: Lyceas has in some verses recorded the fact that this is the representation of Jupiter Machinator.” Again, in Book I., when describing the Areopagite district of Athens, he says:—“Here are the images of Pluto, of Mercury, and of Tellus, to whom all such persons, whether citizens or strangers, as have vindicated their innocence in the Court Areopagus, are required sacrifice.” “In a temple of Ceres, at the entrance of Athens, there are images of the goddess herself, of her daughter, and of Bacchus, with a torch in his hand.”

That the grouping of the three deities was not accidental is evident from the frequency with which they are so mentioned, and other passages show that they were the three deities who were worshipped in the Eleusinian mysteries. Thus in Book VIII., Ch. 25:—“The river Lado then continues its course to the temple of the Eleusinian Ceres, which is situated in territories of the Thelpusians: the three statues in it are each seven feet high, and all of marble: they represent Ceres, Proserpine, and Bacchus.” In another passage (Book II., Ch. 2) he says:—“By a temple dedicated to all the gods, there were placed three statues of Jupiter in the open air, of which one had no title, a second was styled the Terrestrial, and the third was styled the highest.”

The learned say, of course, it is clear that the missing title should have been the God of the Sea, as the others were the God[Pg 73] of Heaven, and the God of the Earth. Another passage in Pausanias confirms this:—“In a temple of Minerva was placed a wooden image of Jupiter with three eyes; two of them were placed in the natural position, and the other was placed on the forehead.... One may naturally suppose that Jupiter is represented with three eyes as the God of the Heaven, as the God of the Earth, and as the God of the Sea.”

It has been remarked that Pausanias records the tradition that this story of the three-eyed Jupiter comes from Troy, and it is known that the Trojans acknowledged a trinity in the divine nature, and that the Dii Penates, or the Cabiri of the Romans, came from Troy. Quotations from the translation of the Atlas Chinesis of Montanus, by Ogilby, show that the three-eyed Jupiter was an oriental emblem of the trinity:—“The modern learned, or followers of this first sect, who are overwhelmed in idolatry, divide generally their idols, or false gods, into three orders, viz., celestial, terrestrial, and infernal: in the celestial they acknowledge a trinity of one godhead, which they worship and serve by the name of a goddess called Pussa; which, with the Greeks, we might call Cybele, and with Egyptians, Isis and Mother of the Gods. This Pussa (according to the Chinese saying) is the governess of nature, or, to speak properly, the Chinese Isis, or Cybele, by whose power they believe that all things are preserved and made fruitful, as the three inserted figures relate.”

In the doctrine relating to the Virgin Mary as held by the Church of Rome, there is a remarkable resemblance to the teaching of the ancients respecting the female constantly associated with the triune male deity. Her names and titles are many, and though diversified, mostly pointing to the same idea. Some of these are as follows:—“The Virgin,” conceiving and bringing forth from her own inherent power. The wife of Bel Nimrod; the wife of Asshur; the wife of Nin. She is called[Pg 74] Multa, Mulita, or Mylitta, or Enuta, Bilta or Bilta Nipruta, Ishtar, Ri, Alitta, Elissa, Bettis, Ashtoreth, Astarte, Saruha, Nana, Asurah. Amongst other names she is known as Athor, Dea Syria, Artemis, Aphrodite, Tanith, Tanat, Rhea, Demeter, Ceres, Diana, Minerva, Juno, Venus, Isis, Cybele, Seneb or Seben, Venus Urania, Ge, Hera. “As Anaitis she is the ‘mother of the child;’ reproduced again as Isis and Horus; Devaki with Christna; and Aurora with Memnon.” Even in ancient Mexico the mother and child were worshipped. Again she appears as Davkina Gula Shala, Zirbanit, Warmita Laz. In modern times she reappears as the Virgin Mary and her son. There were Ishtar of Nineveh and Ishter of Arbela, just as there are now Marie de Loretto and Marie de la Garde.

She was the Queen of fecundity or fertility, Queen of the lands, the beginning of heaven and earth, Queen of all the Gods, Goddess of war and battle, the holder of the sceptre, the beginning of the beginning, the one great Queen, the Queen of the spheres, the Virgo of the Zodiac, the Celestial Virgin, Time, in whose womb all things are born. She is represented in various ways, and specially as a nude woman carrying an infant in her arms.[13]

The name Multa, Mulita, or Mylitta, Inman contends is derived from some words resembling the Hebrew meal, the “place of entrance,” and ta, “a chamber.” The whole being a place of entrance and a chamber. The cognomen Multa, or Malta, signifies, therefore, the spot through which life enters into the chamber, i.e., the womb, and through which the fruit matured within enters into the world as a new being. By the association of this virgin goddess with the sacred triad of deities is made up the four great gods, Arba-il.

[Pg 75]We are here reminded of the well-known symbol of the Trinity which seems to have been as abundantly used in ancient times, at least in some countries—Egypt for instance. This is the triangle—generally the equilateral—which of course symbolised both the trinity in unity and the equality of the three. Sometimes we get two of those triangles crossing each other, one with the point upwards, the other with the point downwards, thus forming a six-rayed star. The first represents the phallic triad, the two together shew the union of the male and female principles producing a new figure, each at the same time retaining its own identity. The triangle with the point downwards, by itself typifies the Mons Veneris, the Delta, or door through which all come into the world.

The question has arisen:—“How comes it that a doctrine so singular, and so utterly at variance with all the conceptions of uninstructed reason, as that of a Trinity in Unity, should have been from the beginning, the fundamental religious tenet of every nation upon earth?”

Inman without hesitation declares “the trinity of the ancients is unquestionably of phallic origin.” Others have either preceded this writer or have followed suit, contending that the male symbol of generation in divine creation was three in one, as the cross, &c., and that the female symbol was always regarded as the Triangle, the accepted symbol of the Trinity. The number three, was employed with mystic solemnity, and in the emblematical hands which seem to have been borne on the top of a staff or sceptre in the Isiac processions, the thumb and two forefingers are held up to signify the three primary and general personifications. This form of priestly blessing, thumb and two fingers, is still acknowledged as a sign of the Trinity.

The ancients tell us plainly enough that they are derived from the cosmogonic elements. They are primarily the material and[Pg 76] elementary types of the spiritual trinity of revelation—types established by revelation itself, and the only resource of materialism to preserve the original doctrine. The spirit, whether physical or spiritual, is equally the pneuma; and the light, whether physical or spiritual, equally the phos of the Greek text: so that the materialist of antiquity had little difficulty in preserving their analogies complete.

The Dahomans are said by Skertchley to deny the corporeal existence of the deity, but to ascribe human passions to him; a singular medley. “Their religion,” he says, “must not be confounded with Polytheism, for they only worship one god, Mau, but propitiate him through the intervention of the fetiches. Of these, there are four principal ones, after whom come the secondary deities. The most important of these is Bo, the Dahoman Mars; then comes Legba, the Dahoman Priapus, whose little huts are to be met with in every street. This deity is of either sex, a male and female Legba often residing in the same temple. A squat swish image, rudely moulded into the grossest caricature on the human form, sitting with hands on knees, with gaping mouth, and the special attributes developed to an ungainly size. Teeth of cowries usually fill the clown-like mouth, and ears standing out from the head, like a bat’s, are only surpassed in their monstrosity by the snowshoe-shaped feet. The nose is broad, even for a negro’s, and altogether the deity is anything but a fascinating object. Round the deity is a fence of knobbed sticks, daubed with filthy slime, and before the god is a flat saucer of red earthenware, which contains the offerings. When a person wishes to increase his family, he calls in a Legba priest and gives him a fowl, some cankie, water, and palm oil. A fire is lighted, and the cankie, water, and palm oil mixed together and put in the saucer. The fowl is then killed by placing the head between the great and second toes of the priest, who severs[Pg 77] it from the body by a jerk. The head is then swung over the person of the worshipper, to allow the blood to drop upon him, while the bleeding body is held over a little dish, which catches the blood. The fowl is then semi-roasted on a fire lighted near, and the priest, taking the dish of blood, smears the body of the deity with it, finally taking some of the blood into his mouth and sputtering it over the god. The fowl is then eaten by the priest, and the wives of the devotees are supposed to have the children they crave for.”

The principal Dahoman gods, described by Skertchley, are thus mentioned by Forlong:—

Legba, the Dahoman Priapus, and special patron of all who desire larger families.

Zoo, the god of fire, reminding us of Zoe, life.

Demen, he who presides over chastity.

Akwash, he who presides over childbirth.

Gbwejeh, he or she who presides over hunting.

Ajarama, the tutelary god of foreigners, symbolised by a whitewashed stump under a shed, apparently a Sivaic or white Lingam, no doubt called foreign because Ashar came from Assyria, and Esir from the still older Ethiopians.

Hoho, he who presides over twins.

Afa, the name of the dual god of wisdom.

Aizan, the god who presides over roads, and travellers, and bad characters, and can be seen on all roads as a heap of clay surmounted by a round pot, containing kanki, palm oil, &c.

“So that we have Legba, the pure and simple phallus; Ajarama, ‘the whitened stump,’ so well known to us in India amidst rude aboriginal tribes; and Ai-zan, the Hermes or Harmonia, marking the ways of life, and symbolised by a mound and round pot and considering that this is the universal form of tatooing shown on every female’s stomach,—Mr. Skertchley says, a series[Pg 78] of arches, the meaning is also clearly the omphi. Mr. S. says that Afa, our African Androgynous Minerva, is very much respected by mothers, and has certain days sacred to mothers, when she or he is specially consulted on their special subjects, as well as on all matters relating to marrying, building a house, sowing corn, and such like.”[14]

Some years ago a writer, speaking of the Sacred Triads of various nations, said: “From all quarters of the heathen world came the trinity,” what we have already revealed shows that the doctrine has been held in some form or other from the far east to the extreme verge of the western hemisphere. Some of the forms of this Triad are as follows:—India—Brahma, Vishnu, Siva: Egypt—Knef, Osiris as the first; Ptha, Isis as the second; Phree, Horus as the third: the Zoroastrians—The Father, Mind, and Fire: the Ancient Arabs—Al-Lat, Al Uzzah, Manah: Greeks and Latins—Zeus or Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto: the Syrians—Monimus, Azoz, Aries or Mars: the Kaldians—The One; the Second, who dwells with the First; the Third, he who shines through the universe: China—the One, the Second from the First, the Third from the Second: the Boodhists—Boodhash, the Developer; Darmash, the Developed; Sanghash, the Hosts Developed: Peruvians—Apomti, Charunti, Intiquaoqui: Scandinavia—Odin, Thor, Friga: Pythagoras—Monad, Duad, Triad: Plato—the Infinite, the Finite, that which is compounded of the Two: Phenicia—Belus, the Sun; Urama, the Earth; Adonis, Love: Kalmuks—Tarm, Megozan, Bourchan: Ancient Greece—Om, or On; Dionysus, or Bacchus; Herakles: Orpheus—God, the Spirit, Kaos: South American Indians—Otkon. Messou, Atahanto.



[Pg 79]


The Golden Calf of Aaron—Was it a Cone or an Animal?—The Prayer to Priapus—Hymn to Priapus—The Complaint of Priapus.


In the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Exodus we have the following remarkable account of certain Israelitish proceedings in the time of Moses and Aaron:—“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron; and he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf, and they said, ‘These be thy gods O Israel, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt.’ And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, ‘To-morrow is a feast to the Lord.’ And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.”

There is no doubt this is a most remarkable, and, for the most part, inexplicable transaction. That it was an act of the grossest idolatry is clear, but the details of the affair are not so readily disposed of, and some amount of discussion has in consequence arisen, which has cast imputations upon the conduct of the ancient Jews not very favourably regarded by the moderns.

[Pg 80]The conduct of Aaron is certainly startling, to say the least of it, for when the people presented their outrageous demand, coupled with their insolent and contemptuous language about the man Moses, he makes no remonstrance, utters no rebuke, but apparently falls in at once with their proposal and prepares to carry it out. The question is, however, what was it that was really done? What was the character of the image or idol, he fashioned out of the golden ornaments which he requested them to take from the ears of their wives, their sons, and their daughters?

The suggestion that anything of a phallic nature is to be attributed to this transaction has been loudly ridiculed and indignantly spurned by some who have had little acquaintance with that species of worship, but it is by no means certain that the charge can be so easily disposed of. That phallic practises prevailed, more or less, amongst the Jews is certain, and however this matter of the golden image may be explained, it will be difficult to believe they were not somehow concerned in it.

It may be a new revelation to some to be told that in the opinion of some scholars the idol form set up by those foolish idolators was not that of a calf at all, but of a cone. The Hebrew word egel or ghegel has been usually taken to mean calf, but, say these gentlemen, erroneously so, its true signification being altogether different. It is pleaded that it was not at all likely that the Israelites should, so soon after their miraculous deliverance from the house of bondage, have so far forgotten what was due from them in grateful remembrance of that, as to have plunged into such gross and debased idolatry as the adoration of deity under the form of an animal. Also that it would have been inconsistent with their exclamation when they saw the image, “This is thy God, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,” and with Aaron’s proclamation, after he had built an altar before[Pg 81] the idol for the people to sacrifice burnt offerings on, “To-morrow is a feast to the Lord.” It is urged from these expressions that the only reasonable and legitimate inference is, that the golden idol was intended to be the similitude or symbol of the Eternal Himself, and not of any other God.

Certainly it is, as we have said, remarkable, and presents a problem not at all easy of solution. Dr. Beke contends that in any case, it is inconceivable that the figure of a calf should have been chosen to represent the invisible God—he concludes, therefore, that the word egel has been wrongly translated.

With regard to the etymology of the word, its root àgal is declared to be doubtful, Fürst taking it to mean to run, to hasten, to leap, and Gesenius suggesting that its primary signification in the Ethiopic, “egel denoting, like golem, something rolled or wrapped together, an unformed mass; and hence embryo, fœtus, and also the young, as just born and still unshapen.”

It is inferred from this, supposing it to be correct, that the primary idea of this and kindred roots, is that of roundness, so that egel may readily mean any rounded figure, such as a globe, cylinder, or cone. “Adopting this,” says Dr. Beke,—“a cone, as the true meaning of the Hebrew word in the text, the sense of the transaction recorded will be, that Moses having delayed to come down from the Mount, the Israelites, fearing that he was lost, and looking on the Eternal as their true deliverer and leader, required Aaron to make for them Elohim—that is to say, a visible similitude or symbol of their God who had brought them up out of the land of Mitzraim. Aaron accordingly made for them a golden cone, as an image of the flame of fire seen by Moses in the burning bush, and of the fire in which the Eternal had descended upon Sinai, this being the only visible form in which the Almighty had been manifested. Of such a representation or symbol, a sensuous people like the Israelites might without inconsistency[Pg 82] say, ‘This is thy God, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Mitzraim;’ at the same time that Aaron, after having built an altar before it, could make proclamation and say, ‘To-morrow is the feast to the Eternal,’ that is to say, to the invisible God, whose eidolon or visible image this egel was.”

It is admitted by the advocates of this theory that there are certain things in the English version which appear adverse to it. For instance, it is said that all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron; and he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf, from which it might be inferred, it is said, that the idol was first roughly moulded and cast by the founder, and then finished by the sculptor.

It is urged however, that it is generally admitted by scholars that the original does not warrant this rendering, the words “after he had,” which are not in the text, having been added for the purpose of making sense of the passage, which, if translated literally, would read, “He formed it with a graving tool, and made it a golden calf,” a statement, says Dr. Beke, which in spite of all the efforts made to explain it, is inconsistent with the rest of the narrative, which repeatedly says, in express terms, that the idol was a molten image.

In order to get rid of this difficulty, several learned commentators have interpreted the word hhereth (graving-tool) as meaning like hharith, a bag, pocket, or purse, causing the passage to read, “He received them at their hands, and put it (the gold) into a bag, and made it a golden calf.” Dr. Beke thinks this untenable on the ground that as Aaron must necessarily have collected the golden earrings together before casting them into the fire, it is hardly likely that express mention would be made of so trivial a circumstance as that of his putting them into a bag merely for the purpose of immediately taking them out again.

[Pg 83]The root hharath, according to Gesenius, has the meaning of to cut in, to engrave; and one of the significations of the kindred root pharatz is to cut to a point, to make pointed. “Hharithim, the plural of hhereth, is said to mean purses, bags for money, so called from their long and round shape, perhaps like an inverted cone; whence it is that Bochart and others acquired their notion that Aaron put the golden earrings of the Israelites into a bag.”[15]

Dr. Beke remarks:—“If the word hhereth signifies a bag, on account of its resemblance to an inverted cone, it may equally signify any other similarly-shaped receptacle or vessel, such as a conical fire-pot or crucible; and if the golden earrings were melted in such a vessel, the molten metal, when cool, would of course have acquired therefrom its long and round form, like an inverted cone, which is precisely the shape of the egel made by Aaron, on the assumption that this was intended to represent the flame of fire. Consequently, we may now read the passage in question literally, and without the slightest violence of construction, as follows: ‘And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hands, and placed it (the gold) in a crucible, and made it a molten cone;’ this cone having taken the long and rounded form of the crucible in which it was melted and left to cool.”

An argument in favour of this reading is certainly supplied by Exodus xxxii. 24, where Aaron is represented as saying to Moses, when trying to excuse his action, “I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” [or cone?]. It is contended that “the whole tenour of the narrative goes to show that the operation of making the idol for the children of Israel to worship must have been a most simple, and, at the same time, a[Pg 84] very expeditious one, such as the melting of the gold in a crucible would be, but which the moulding and casting of the figure of a calf, however roughly modelled and executed, could not possibly have been.”

This cone or phallic theory met with a by no means ready reception by Jewish scholars; it had not been broached many days before it was energetically attacked and its destruction sought both by ridicule and argument. It has been admitted, however, that philologically there is something in it, more even, says Dr. Benisch, than its advocate Dr. Beke has made out. The former goes so far as to state that its root, not only in Hebrew, but also in Chaldee and Arabic, primarily designates roundness; and secondarily, that which is the consequence of a round shape, facility of being rolled, speed, and conveyance; consequently, that it may therefore be safely concluded that it would be in Hebrew a very suitable designation for a cone. “Moreover, the same root in the same signification is also found in some of the Aryan languages. Compare the German ‘kugel’ (ball) and ‘kegel’ (cone).”

The chief objection lies in the fact that there are various passages in the Scriptures where the word occurs, whose contexts clearly show that the idea intended was that of a living creature, and that the unbroken usage of language, from the author of Genesis to that of Chronicles, shows that the term had never changed its signification, viz.: that of calf, bullock, or heifer. In Levit. ix. 2, 3, 8; 1 Sam. xxviii. 26; Ps. xxix. 6; Isa. xi. 6; Isa. xxvii. 10; Mic. vi. 6, for instance, there can be no mistake that the reference is to the living animal, and a reference to the Hebrew concordance shows that the term, inclusive of the feminine (heifer), occurs fifty-one times in the Bible, in twenty-nine cases of which the word indisputably means a living creature. Dr. Benisch therefore asks, “Is it admissible that one and the same[Pg 85] writer (for instance, the Deuteronomist) should have used four times this word in the sense of heifer (xxii. 4 and 6; xxi. 3), and once in that of cone (ix. 16) without implying by some adjective, or some turn of language, that the word is a homonyme? Or that Hosea, in x. 11, should clearly employ it in the sense of heifer, and, in viii. 5, in that of cone? A glance at the concordance will show that, in every one of the more important books, the word in question occurs most clearly in the sense of calf, and never in a passage which should render a different translation inadmissible. On what ground, therefore, can it be maintained that, in the days of the author of the 106th Psalm, the supposed original meaning of cone had been forgotten, and that of calf substituted?”

The reply to the objection that one and the same word is not likely to have been used by the same or contemporaneous writers in two different senses, and that the word has a uniform traditional interpretation, is that in the Hebrew, as in the English, considerable ambiguity occurs, and that the same word sometimes has two meanings of the most distinct and irreconcilable character. As regards the second objection, says Dr. Beke, which is based on the unbroken chain of tradition for about two thousand years, it can only hold good on the assumption that the originators of the tradition were infallible. If not, an error, whether committed intentionally or unintentionally in the first instance, does not become a truth by dint of repetition; any more than truth can become error by being as persistently rejected. The Doctor contends that when the Jews became intimately connected with Egypt, and witnessed there the adoration of the sacred bull Apis, they fell into the error of regarding as a golden calf the egel, or conical representation of the flame of fire, which their forefathers, and after them the Ten Tribes, had worshipped as the similitude of the Eternal, but of which they themselves, as Jews, had lost[Pg 86] the signification. If this was the case, it is only natural that the error should have been maintained traditionally until pointed out.

So stands the argument with regard to the theory of its being a golden cone, and not the figure of a calf that Aaron made out of the people’s ornaments, and the worship of which so naturally provoked the wrath of Moses. There is much to be said in its favour, though not enough, perhaps, to make it conclusive. The propounder of it expressed his regret that he was under the necessity of protesting against the allegation that he had imputed to the Israelites what he calls the obscene phallic worship. “Most expressly,” he says, “did I say that the molten golden image made by Aaron at Mount Sinai was a plain conical figure, intended to represent the God who had delivered the people from their bondage in the land of Mitzraim, in the form in which alone He had been manifested to them and to their inspired leader and legislator, namely that of the flame of fire.” This is perfectly true, but those who are intimately acquainted with the phallic faiths of the world will find it difficult to disassociate the conical form of idol from those representations of the human physical organ which have been found as objects of adoration in so many parts of both the eastern and western hemispheres.

Supposing the philological argument to possess any weight—and that it does has been admitted even by those who regret the cone theory,—there are other circumstances which certainly may be adduced in confirmation thereof. For instance, the word chéret translated graving-tool, may mean also a mould. Again, it does not appear at all likely that the quantity of gold supplied by the ear-rings of the people would be sufficient to make a solid calf of the size. True, it may have been manufactured of some other material and covered with gold; but the easier solution of the difficulty certainly seems that which suggests that Aaron took these ornaments and melted them in a crucible of the ordinary[Pg 87] form, afterwards turning out therefrom, when cold, the golden cone to which the people rendered idolatrous worship.

The whole subject is surrounded with difficulty, and men of equal learning and ability have taken opposite sides in the discussion, supporting and refuting in turn. Passing over the dispute as to whether Aaron simply received the ear-rings in a bag or whether he graved them with an engraving tool,—the first warmly argued by Bochart, and the latter by Le Clerc—a dispute we can never settle owing to the remarkable ambiguity of the language, we may briefly notice the question, supposing it was a calf made by Aaron, what induced and determined the choice of such a figure? Nor must it be supposed that here we are upon undebatable ground; on the contrary, the same divergence of opinion prevails as with respect to the previous question. Fr. Moncæus said that Aaron got his idea on the mountain, where he was once admitted with Moses; and on another occasion with Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders. This writer and others tell us that God appeared exalted on a cherub which had the form of an ox.

Patrick says that Aaron seems to him to have chosen an ox to be the symbol of the Divine presence, in hope that people would never be so sottish as to worship it, but only be put in mind by it of the Divine power, which was hereby represented,—an ox’s head being anciently an emblem of strength, and horns a common sign of kingly power. He contends that the design was simply to furnish a hieroglyphic of the energy and power of God.

The usual explanation is that Aaron chose a calf because that animal was worshipped in Egypt. That the Israelites were tainted with Egyptian idolatry is plain from Joshua’s exhortation:—“Now therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt, and serve ye the Lord”[Pg 88] (Josh, xxiv., 14). Also Ezekiel xx., 7 and 8:—“They did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt.”

There is no deficiency of evidence respecting the worship of the ox in Egypt. Strabo says one was kept at Memphis, which was regarded as a divinity. Pliny repeats the story and says that the Egyptians called this ox Apis, and that it had two kinds of temples, the entrance to one being most pleasant, to the other frightful. Herodotus says of this idol:—“Apis or Epatus, is a calf from a cow which never produced but one, and this could only have been by a clap of thunder. The calf denominated Apis, has certain marks by which it may be known. It is all over black, excepting one square mark; on its back is the figure of an eagle, and on its tongue that of a beetle.”

It certainly seems tolerably clear that the worship of the calf came out of Egypt, but so much difficulty surrounds the question of whether the Egyptian worship preceded or followed that of Aaron’s calf, that we are inclined to endorse the opinion of a modern writer, and say we suspend our judgment respecting the precise motive which determined Aaron to set up a calf as the object of Israelitish worship, and conclude that had he offered any other object of worship, whether some other animal, or any plant, or a star, or any other production of nature, the learned would have asked, “Why this rather than some other?” Many would have been the divisions of opinion on the question; each one would have found in antiquity, and in the nature of the case, probabilities to support his own sentiment, and perhaps have exalted them into demonstrations.[16]

The mention of a cone in connection with the matter now under consideration, and as the form of Aaron’s idol, suggests other examples of the same figure which are said to have had a phallic form. The Paphian Venus, for instance, was represented[Pg 89] by a conical stone: of which Tacitus thus speaks:—“The statue of the goddess bears no resemblance to the human form. It is round throughout, broad at one end, and gradually tapering to a narrow span at the other, like a goat; the reason of this is not ascertained. The cause is stated by Philostratus to be symbolic.”

Lajard (Recherches sur la Cult de Venus) says:—“In all Cyrian coins, from Augustus to Macrinus, may be seen in the place where we should anticipate to find a statue of the goddess, the form of a conical stone. The same is placed between two cypresses under the portico of the temple of Astarte, in a medal of Ælia Capitolina; but in this instance the cone is crowned. In another medal, struck by the elder Philip, Venus is represented between two Genii, each of whom stands upon a cone or pillar with a rounded top. There is reason to believe that at Paphos images of the conical stone were made and sold as largely as were effigies of Diana of the Ephesians.

“Medals and engraved stones demonstrate that the hieratic prescriptions required that all those hills which were consecrated to Jupiter should be represented in a conical form. At Sicony, Jupiter was adored under the form of a pyramid.”

Delight of Bacchus, Guardian of the groves,
The kind restorer of decaying loves:
Lesbos and verdant Thasos thee implore,
Whose maids thy pow’r in wanton rites adore:
Joy of the Dryads, with propitious care,
Attend my wishes, and indulge my pray’r.
My guiltless hands with blood I never stain’d,
Or sacrilegiously the god’s prophan’d:
Thus low I bow, restoring blessings send,
I did not thee with my whole self offend.
Who sins through weakness, is less guilty thought;
Indulge my crime, and spare a venial fault.
On me when fate shall smiling gifts bestow,
I’ll (not ungrateful) to your god-head bow;
[Pg 90]A sucking pig I’ll offer to thy shrine,
And sacred bowls brimful of generous wine;
A destin’d goat shall on thy altar lie,
And the horn’d parent of my flock shall die;
Then thrice thy frantic vot’ries shall around
Thy temple dance, with smiling garlands crown’d,
And most devoutly drunk, thy orgies sound.—Petronius.
Bacchus and Nymphs delight O mighty God!
Whom Cynthia gave to rule the blooming wood.
Lesbos and verdant Thasos thee adore,
And Lydians in loose flowing dress implore,
And raise devoted temples to thy pow’r.
Thou Dryad’s Joy, and Bacchus’ Guardian, hear
My conscious prayer with attentive ear.
My hands with guiltless blood I never stain’d,
Nor yet the temples of the gods prophan’d.
Restore my strength, and lusty vigour send,
My trembling nerves like pliant oziers bend.
Who sins through weakness, is not guilty thought,
No equal power can punish such a fault.
A wanton goat shall on your altars die,
And spicy smoke in curls ascend the sky.
A pig thy floors with sacred blood shall stain,
And round the awful fire and holy flame,
Thrice shall thy priests, with youth and garlands crown’d,
In pious drunkenness thy orgies sound.—Petronius.
The Complaint of Priapus for being Veiled.
The Almighty’s Image, of his shape afraid,
And hide the noblest part e’er nature made,
Which God alone succeeds in his creating trade.
The Fall this fig-leav’d modesty began,
To punish woman, by obscuring man;
Before, where’er his stately Cedar moved
She saw, ador’d and kiss’d the thing she loved.
Why do the gods their several signs disclose,
Almighty Jove his Thunder-bolt expose,
Neptune his Trident, Mars his Buckler shew,
Pallas her spear to each beholder’s view,
And poor Priapus be alone confin’d
T’obscure the women’s god, and parent of mankind?
Since free-born brutes their liberty obtain,
Long hast thou journey-worked for souls in vain,
Storm the Pantheon, and demand thy right,
For on this weapon ’tis depends the fight.—Petronius.



[Pg 91]


Circumcision, male and female, in various countries and ages.


Circumcision is one of the most ancient religious rites with which we are acquainted, and, as practised in some countries, there seems reason to suppose that it was of a phallic character. “It can scarcely be doubted,” says one writer, “that it was a sacrifice to the awful power upon whom the fruit of the womb depended, and having once fixed itself in the minds of the people, neither priest nor prophet could eradicate it. All that these could do was to spiritualise it into a symbol of devotion to a high religious ideal.” Bonwick says: “Though associated with sun worship by some, circumcision may be accepted as a rite of sex worship.” Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, speaking of the neighbouring nations as far as India, says: “Many of them practise divination, and devote their genitals to their divinities.”

It is not possible, perhaps, to speak with any degree of certainty about the origin of this rite; the enquiry carries the student so far back in history, that the mind gets lost in the mists of the past. It is regarded by some as a custom essentially Jewish, but this is altogether wrong; it was extensively practised in Egypt, also by the tribes inhabiting the more southern parts of Africa; in Asia, the Afghans and the Tamils had it, and it has been found in various parts of America, and amongst the Fijians and Australians. It has been argued, and with considerable plausibility, that it existed long before writing was known, and from the fact of its having been employed by the New Hollanders, its great antiquity may be inferred with certainty.

It has been noticed by historians that sometimes a nation will pledge itself to a corporal offering of such a kind, that every member shall constantly bear about its mark on himself, and so[Pg 92] make his personal appearance or condition a perpetual witness for the special religion whose vows he has undertaken. Thus several Arabian tribes living not far from the Holy Land, adopted the custom, as a sign of their special religion (or, as Herodotus says, “after the example of their God”), of shaving the hair of their heads in an extraordinary fashion, viz., either on the crown of the head or towards the temples, or else of disfiguring a portion of the beard. Others branded or tattooed the symbol of a particular god on the skin, on the forehead, the arm, the hand. Israel, too, adopted from early times a custom which attained the highest sanctity in its midst, where no jest, however trifling, could be uttered on the subject, but which was essentially of a similar nature to those we have just mentioned. This was circumcision.[17] It was this special character which no doubt gave rise to the idea so common amongst the uninformed that it was a Jewish rite.

Herodotus and Philo Judæus have related that it prevailed to a great extent among the Egyptians and Ethiopians. The former historian says it was so ancient among each people that there was no determining which of them borrowed it from the other. Among the Egyptians he says it was instituted from the beginning. Shuckford says that by this he could not mean from the first rise or original of that nation, but that it was so early among them that the heathen writers had no account of its origin. When anything appeared to them to be thus ancient, they pronounced it to be from the beginning. Herodotus clearly meant this, because we find him questioning whether the Egyptians learnt circumcision from the Ethiopians, or the Ethiopians from the Egyptians, and he leaves the question undecided, merely concluding that it was a very ancient rite. If by the expression “from the beginning,” he had meant that it was originated by the Egyptians, there would not have been this indecision: and it is[Pg 93] known that among heathen writers to say a thing was “from the beginning,” was equivalent to the other saying that it was very anciently practised.

Herodotus, in another place, relates that the inhabitants of Colchis also used circumcision, and concludes therefrom that they were originally Egyptians. He adds that the Phœnicians and Syrians, who lived in Palestine, were likewise circumcised, but that they borrowed the practice from the Egyptians; and further, that little before the time when he wrote, circumcision had passed from Colchis to the people inhabiting the countries near Termodon and Parthenius.

Diodorus Siculus thought the Colchians and the Jews to be derived from the Egyptians, because they used circumcision. In another place, speaking of other nations, he says that they were circumcised, after the manner of the Egyptians. Sir J. Marsham is of opinion that the Hebrews borrowed circumcision from the Egyptians, and that God was not the first author thereof; citing Diodorus and Herodotus as evidences on his side.

Circumcision, though it is not so much as once mentioned in the Koran, is yet held by the Mahomedans to be an ancient divine institution, confirmed by the religion of Islam, and though not so absolutely necessary but that it may be dispensed with in some cases, yet highly proper and expedient. The Arabs used this rite for many ages before Mahomet, having probably learned it from Ismael, though not only his descendants, but the Hamyarites and other tribes practised the same. The Ismaelites we are told, used to circumcise their children, not on the eighth day, according to the custom of the Jews, but when about twelve or thirteen years old, at which age their father underwent that operation; and the Mahomedans imitate them so far as not to circumcise children before they are able at least distinctly to pronounce that profession of their faith, “there is no God, but God, Mahomet is[Pg 94] the apostle of God;” but they fix on what age they please for the purpose between six and sixteen. The Moslem doctors are generally of opinion that this precept was given originally to Abraham, yet some have said that Adam was taught it by the angel Gabriel, to satisfy an oath he had made to cut off that flesh, which, after his fall, had rebelled against his spirit; whence an argument has been drawn for the universal obligation of circumcision.

The Mahomedans have a tradition that their prophet declared circumcision to be a necessary rite for men, and for women honourable. This tradition makes the prophet declare it to be “Sonna,” which Pocock renders a necessary rite, though Sonna, according to the explanation of Reland, does not comprehend things absolutely necessary, but such as, though the observance of them be meritorious, the neglect is not liable to punishment.

In Egypt circumcision has never been peculiar to the men, but the women also have had to undergo a practice of a similar nature. This has been called by Bruce and Strabo “excision.” All the Egyptians, the Arabians, and natives to the south of Africa, the Abyssinians, the Gallas, the Agoues, the Gasats, and Gonzas, made their children undergo this operation—at no fixed time, but always before they were marriageable. Belon says the practice prevailed among the Copts; and P. Jovius and Munster say the same of the subjects of Prester John. Sonnini says it was well known that the Egyptian women were accustomed to the practice, but people were not agreed as to the motives which induced them to submit to the operation. Most of those who have written on the subject of female circumcision have considered it as the retrenchment of a portion of the nymphæ, which are said to grow, in the countries where the practice obtains, to an extraordinary size. Others have imagined that it was nothing less than the amputation of the clitoris, the elongation of which[Pg 95] is said to be a disgusting deformity, and to be attended with other inconveniences which rendered the operation necessary.

Before he had an opportunity of ascertaining the nature of the circumcision of the Egyptian women, Sonnini also supposed it consisted of the amputation of the excrescence of the nymphæ or clitoris, according to circumstances, and according as the parts were more or less elongated. He says it is very probable that these operations have been performed, not only in Egypt, but in several other countries in the East, where the heat of the climate and other causes may produce too luxuriant a growth of those parts, and this, he adds, he had the more reason to think, since, on consulting several Turks who had settled at Rosetta, respecting the circumcision of their wives, he could obtain from them no other idea but that of these painful mutilations. They likewise explained to him the motives. Curious admirers as they were of smooth and polished surfaces, every inequality, every protuberance, was in their eyes a disgusting fault. They asserted too that one of these operations abated the ardour of the constitutions of their wives, and diminished their facility of procuring illicit enjoyments.

Niebuhr relates that Forskal and another of his fellow-travellers, having expressed to a great man at Cairo, at whose country seat they were, the great desire they had to examine a girl who had been circumcised, their obliging host immediately ordered a country girl eighteen years of age to be sent for, and allowed them to examine her at their ease. Their painter made a drawing of the parts after the life, in presence of several Turkish domestics; but he drew with a trembling hand, as they were apprehensive of the consequences it might bring upon them from the Mahometans. A plate from this drawing was given by Professor Blumenbach, in his work De Generis humani Varietate nativa, from which it is evident that the traveller saw nothing but[Pg 96] the amputation of the nymphæ and clitoris, the enlargement of which is so much disliked by husbands in these countries.

Sonnini suspected that there must be something more in it than an excess of these parts, an inconvenience, which, being far from general among the women, could not have given rise to an ancient and universal practice. Determining to remove his doubts on the subject, he took the resolution, which every one to whom the inhabitants of Egypt are known, he says, will deem sufficiently bold, not to procure a drawing of a circumcised female, but to have the operation performed under his own eyes. Mr. Fornetti, whose complaisance and intelligence were so frequently of service to him, readily undertook to assist him in the business; and a Turk, who acted as broker to the French merchants, brought to him at Rosetta a woman, whose trade it was to perform the operation, with two young girls, one of whom was going to be circumcised, the other having been operated on two years before.

In the first place he examined the little girl that was to be circumcised. She was about eight years old, and of the Egyptian race. He was much surprised at observing a thick, flabby, fleshy excrescence, covered with skin, taking its rise from the labia, and hanging down it half-an-inch.

The woman who was to perform the operation sat down on the floor, made the little girl seat herself before her, and without any preparation, cut off the excrescence just described with an old razor. The girl did not give any signs of feeling much pain. A few ashes taken up between the finger and thumb were the only topical application employed, though a considerable quantity of blood was discharged from the wound.

The Egyptian girls are generally freed from this inconvenient superfluity at the age of seven or eight. The women who are in the habit of performing this operation, which is attended with[Pg 97] little difficulty, come from Said. They travel through the towns and villages, crying in the streets, “Who wants a good circumciser?” A superstitious tradition has marked the commencement of the rise of the Nile as the period at which it ought to be performed; and accordingly, besides the other difficulties he had to surmount, Sonnini had that of finding parents who would consent to the circumcision of their daughter at a season so distant from that which is considered as the most favourable, this being done in the winter; money, however, overcame this obstacle as it did the rest.

From Dalzel’s History we learn that in Dahome a similar custom prevails with regard to the women as that in Egypt. A certain operation is performed upon the woman, which is thus described in a foot-note:—“Prolongatio, videlicit, artificialis labiorum pudendi, capellæ mamillis simillima.” The part in question, locally called “Tu,” must, from the earliest years, be manipulated by professional old women, as is the bosom among the embryo prostitutes of China. If this be neglected, her lady friends will deride and denigrate the mother, declaring that she has neglected her child’s education; and the juniors will laugh at the daughter as a coward who would not prepare herself for marriage.[18]

“Circumcision was a federal rite, annexed by God as a seal to the covenant which he made with Abraham and his posterity, and was accordingly renewed and taken into the body of the Mosaical constitutions. It was not a mere mark, only to distinguish the Hebrews as the seed of Abraham from other nations; but by this they were made the children of the covenant, and entitled to the blessings of it; though if there had been no more[Pg 98] in it than this, that they who were of the same faith should have a certain character whereby they should be known, it would have been a wise appointment. The mark seems to be fitly chosen for the purpose; because it was a sign that no man would have made upon himself and upon his children, unless it were for the sake of faith and religion. It was not a brand upon the arm, or an incision in the thigh, but a difficult operation in a most tender part, peculiarly called flesh in many places of scripture. That member which is the instrument of generation was made choice of, that they might be an holy seed, consecrated unto God from the beginning; and circumcision was properly a token of the divine covenant made with Abraham and his posterity that God would multiply their seed, and make them as the stars of heaven.”[19]

Ludolf, in his History of Ethiopa, after comparing the circumcision of the Jews with that of the Abyssinians, says: “This puts us in mind of the circumcision of females, of which Gregory was somewhat ashamed to discourse, and we should have more willingly omitted it had not Tzagazabus, in his rude Confession of Faith, spoken of it as a most remarkable custom introduced by the command of Queen Magneda; or had not Paulus Jovius himself, Bishop of Como, insisted in the same manner upon this unseemly custom. This same ceremony was not only used by the Habisenes, but was also familiar among other people of Africa, the Egyptians, and the Arabians themselves. For they cut away from the female infants something which they think to be an indecency and superfluity of nature. Jovius calls it Carunniculam, or a little piece of flesh; Golius, an oblong excrescence. The Arabians, by a particular word, called it Bedhron, or Bedhara, besides which they have many other words to the same purpose. Among their women it is as great a piece[Pg 99] of reproach to revile a woman by saying to her, O Bandaron: that is, O Uncircumcised, as to call a man Arel, or Uncircumcised, among the Jews. The Jewish women in Germany, being acquainted by their reading with this custom, laugh at it, as admiring what it should be that should require such an amputation.”



[Pg 100]


Androgynous Deities—Theories respecting the Dual Sex of the Deity—Sacredness of the Phallus—Sex Worship—The Eastern Desire for Children—Sacred Prostitution—Hindu Law of Adoption and Inheritance—Hindu Need of Offspring, and especially of a Son—Obsequies of the Departed.


The phallic idea alluded to again and again in the preceding pages as entering into the heathen conception of a trinity, the practice of circumcision, and the use of the cross as a symbol, branches out in a great variety of directions; at some of these we must cast a brief glance in order that we may form a correct estimate of the subject.

Reference has been made to the androgynous nature ascribed to the Deity by different nations, and here at once is opened up the whole subject of sex worship. It is impossible to say how far back we should have to retrace our footsteps in seeking for men’s first ideas upon this matter; many ages, it is certain. Forlong, speaking of a remote age and our forefathers, says: “They began to see in life and all nature a God, a Force, a Spirit; or, I should rather say, some nameless thing which no language of those early days, if indeed of present, can describe. They gave to the outward creative organs those devotional thoughts, time, and praise which belonged to the Creator; they figured the living spirit in the cold bodily forms of stone and tree, and so worshipped it. As we read in early Jewish writings, their tribes, like all other early races, bowed before Ashar and Ashe’ra, as others had long before that period worshipped Belus and Uranus, Orus and Isis, Mahadeva, Siva, Sakti, and Parvati. Jupiter and Yuno, or Juno, or rather the first ideas of these, must have arisen in days[Pg 101] long subsequent to this. All such steps in civilisation are very slow indeed, and here they had to penetrate the hearts of millions who could neither read nor write, nor yet follow the reader or the preacher; so centuries would fleet past over such rude infantile populations, acting no more on the inert pulpy mass than years, or even months, now do; and if this were so after they began to realise the ideas of a Bel and Ouranos, how much slower before that far-back stage was won. Their first symbolisation seems clearly to have been the simple line, pillar, or a stroke, as their male god; and a cup or circle as their female; and lo! the dual and mystic 10 which early became a trinity, and has stood before the world from that unknown time to this. In this mystic male and female we have the first great androgynous god.”

Alluding to this subject, an anonymous writer, believed to be a Roman Catholic priest, some sixteen years ago, said:—“The primitive doctrine that God created man in his own image, male and female, and consequently that the divine nature comprised the two sexes within itself, fulfils all the conditions requisite to constitute a catholic theological dogma, inasmuch as it may truly be affirmed of it, that it has been held ‘semper, ubique, et ab omnibus,’ being universal as the phenomenon to which it owes its existence.

“How essential to the consistency of the Catholic system is this doctrine of duality you may judge by the shortcomings of the theologies which reject it. Unitarianism blunders alike in regard to the Trinity and the Duality. Affecting to see in God a Father, it denies him the possibility of having either spouse or offspring. More rational than such a creed as this was the primitive worship of sex, as represented by the male and female principles in nature. In no gross sense was the symbolism of such a system conceived, gross as its practice may have become, and as it would appear to the notions of modern conventionalism. For no religion is[Pg 102] founded upon intentional depravity. Searching back for the origin of life, men stopped at the earliest point to which they could trace it, and exalted the reproductive organs into symbols of the Creator. The practice was at least calculated to procure respect for a side of nature liable under an exclusively spiritual regime to be relegated to undue contempt.

“It appears certain that the names of the Hebrew deity bear the sense I have indicated; El, the root of Elhoim, the name under which God was known to the Israelites prior to their entry into Canaan, signifying the masculine sex only; while Jahveh, or Jehovah, denotes both sexes in combination. The religious rites practised by Abraham and Jacob prove incontestably their adherence to this, even then, ancient mode of symbolising deity; and though after the entry into Canaan, the leaders and reformers of the Israelites strove to keep the people from exchanging the worship of their own divinity for that of the exclusively feminine principle worshipped by the Canaanites with unbridled licence under the name of Ashera, yet the indigenous religion became closely incorporated with the Jewish; and even Moses himself fell back upon it when, yielding to a pressing emergency, he gave his sanction to the prevailing Tree and Serpent worship by his elevation of a brazen serpent upon a pole or cross. For all portions of this structure constitute the most universally accepted symbols of sex in the world.

“It is to India that we must go for the earliest traces of these things. The Jews originated nothing, though they were skilful appropriators and adapters of other men’s effects. Brahma, the first person in the Hindoo Triad, was the original self-existent being, inappreciable by sense, who commenced the work of creation by creating the waters with a thought, as described in the Institutes of Manu. The waters, regarded as the source of all subsequent life, became identified with the feminine principle in[Pg 103] nature—whence the origin of the mystic rite of baptism—and the atmosphere was the divine breath or spirit. The description in Genesis of the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters, indicates the influence upon the Jews of the Hindoo theogony to which they had access through Persia.

“The twofold name of Jehovah also finds a correspondence in the Arddha-Nari, or incarnation of Brahma, who is represented in sculptures as containing in himself the male and female organisms. And the worship of the implements of fecundity continues popular in India to this day. The same idea underlies much of the worship of the ancient Greeks, finding expression in the symbols devoted to Apollo or the sun, and in their androgynous sculptures. Aryan, Scandinavian, and Semitic religions were alike pervaded by it, the male principle being represented by the sun, and the female by the moon, which was variously personified by the virgins, Ashtoreth or Astarte, Diana, and others, each of whom, except in the Scandinavian mythology, where the sexes are reversed, had the moon for her special symbol. Similarly, the allegory of Eden finds one of its keys in the phenomena of sex, as is demonstrated by the ancient Syrian sculptures of Ashera, or the Grove; and ‘the tree of life in the midst of the garden’ forms the point of departure for beliefs which have lasted thousands of years, and which have either spread from one source over, or been independently originated in, every part of the habitable globe.”[20]

It is evident that this worship is of the most extremely ancient character and that it was based originally upon ideas that had nothing gross and debasing in them. It is true that it at various times assumed indelicate forms and was associated with much that was of the most degrading character, but the first idea was only to use for religious purposes that which seemed the most[Pg 104] apt emblem of creation and regeneration. “Is it strange,” asks a lady writer, “that they regarded with reverence the great mystery of human birth? Were they impure thus to regard it? Or, are we impure that we do not so regard it? Let us not smile at their mode of tracing the infinite and incomprehensible cause throughout all the mysteries of nature, lest by so doing we cast the shadow of our own grossness on their patriarchal simplicity.”

It became with this very much as it does with all symbolism, more or less, that is to say from the worship of that which was symbolised, it degenerated to the worship of the emblem itself.

But the ancient Egyptians exerted themselves considerably to restrain within certain bounds of propriety the natural tendency of this worship and we find them allowing it to embrace only the masculine side of humanity, afterwards, as was perhaps only to be expected, the feminine was introduced. Then, as particularly exhibited in the case of India, it gradually became nothing more or less than a vehicle for satisfying the licentious desires of the most degrading of both sexes.

It is wonderful, however, the extraordinary hold these ideas attained upon the human mind, whether they entered into the religious conceptions of the people, or pandered to vicious desires under the mere cloak of religion. The Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy (four books relative to Starry Influences), speaking of the countries India, Ariana, Gedrosia, Parthia, Media, Persia, Babylon, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, says:—“Many of them practise divination, and devote their genitals to their divinities because the familiarity of these planets renders them very libidinous.”

Nor must we forget the peculiar sacredness with which in the early Jewish Church these organs were always regarded,—that is, the male organs. Injury of them disqualified the unfortunate victim from ministering in the congregation of the Lord, and the severest punishment was meted out to the criminal who should[Pg 105] be guilty of causing such injury. Thus in the book of Deuteronomy, chap. xxv., 11, 12, we read:—“When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.” And this was not to be an act of revenge on the part of the injured man, but was to be the legal penalty duly enforced by the civil magistrate. It is very extraordinary, for it appears that such an injury inflicted upon an enemy—and evidently it meant the disablement of the man from the act of sexual intercourse—was regarded as even more serious than the actual taking of life in self-defence. The degradation attached to the man thus mutilated was greater than could otherwise be visited upon him—all respect for him vanished and he was henceforward regarded as an abomination.

Such mutilation has always been common in heathen nations—similarly regarded as amongst the Hebrews, but used as the greatest mark of indignity possible to inflict upon an enemy—some of the Egyptian bas-reliefs represent the King (Rameses II.) returning in triumph with captives, many of whom are undergoing the operation of castration, while in the corners of the scene are heaped up piles of the genital organs which have been cut off by the victors. Some of the North American Indians, particularly the Apaches of California and Arizona, have been noted for their frequent use of the same barbarous practice on the prisoners taken in war and upon the bodies of the slain.

We get a similar instance in Israelitish history as recorded in the first book of Samuel, where Saul being afraid of David, sought a favourable opportunity to get him slain by the Philistines. There is the story of the love of Michal, Saul’s daughter, for David, and the use Saul endeavoured to make of that fact in[Pg 106] carrying out his evil designs. The news that Michal had thus fallen in love, pleased Saul, and he said, “I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So David was told that the King would make him his son-in-law. But it was customary in those times for the bridegroom to give a dowry instead of as at other times and in other places, to receive one, and David immediately raised the objection that this was out of his power as he was but a poor man. This was Saul’s opportunity and his message was, “the King desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines. But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.” Of course this involved the slaughter of a hundred of the enemy, and Saul made sure in attempting such a task, David would fall before odds so terribly against him. In commanding the foreskins to be brought to him Saul made sure that they would be Philistines who were slain, they being almost the only uncircumcised people about him. This proposal, however, it seems, did not alarm David in the least, he went forth at once on his terrible mission and actually brought back thrice the number of foreskins required of him by the King. This is not the only case on record of such a mutilation; mention is made by Gill the commentator of an Asiatic writer who speaks of a people that cut off the genital parts of men, and gave them to their wives for a dowry.

So sacred was the organ in question deemed in ancient times, especially in Israel, that it was used as the means of administering the most binding form of oath then known. It is described as putting the hand upon the thigh, and instances are found in Genesis xxiv., 2, and xlvii., 29. In the former of these passages Abraham requires his elder servant to put his hand under his thigh and take an oath respecting the wife he would seek for his son Isaac. In the second passage, it is Jacob requiring his son[Pg 107] Joseph to perform a similar action; in each case what is meant is that the genital organ, the symbol of the Creator and the object of worship among all ancient nations was to be touched in the act of making the promise.

But, as we have pointed out, there is another side to this matter, the worship of the male organ was only one part; the female organs of generation were revered as symbols of the generative power of God. They are usually represented emblematically by the shell, or Concha Veneris, which was therefore worn by devout persons of antiquity, as it still continues to be by pilgrims and many of the common women of Italy. The union of both was expressed by the hand, mentioned in Sir William Hamilton’s letter, which, being a less explicit symbol, has escaped the attention of the reformers, and is still worn as well as the shell by women of Italy, though without being understood. It represented the act of generation, which was considered as a solemn sacrament in honour of the Creator.

Some of the forms used to represent the sacti or female principle, are very peculiar yet familiar to many who may not understand them. Indeed, as Inman says, “the moderns, who have not been initiated in the sacred mysteries, and only know the emblems considered sacred, have need of both anatomical knowledge and physiological lore ere they can see the meaning of many a sign.”

As already stated, the triangle with its apex uppermost represents the phallic triad; with its base uppermost, the Mons Veneris, the Delta, or the door by which all come into the world. Dr. Inman says:—“As a scholar, I had learned that the Greek letter Delta ([symbol]) is expressive of the female organ both in shape and idea. The selection of name and symbol was judicious, for the word Daleth and Delta signify the door of a house and the outlet of a river, while the figure reversed ([symbol]) represents the[Pg 108] fringe with which the human Delta is overshadowed”—this Delta is simply another word for the part known as Concha, a shell. This Concha or Shank is one of the most important of the Eastern symbols, and is found repeated again and again in almost everything connected with the Hindu Pantheon. Plate vi. of Moor’s elaborately illustrated work on the Indian deities represents it as seen in the hands of Vishnu and his consort. The god is represented like all the solar deities with four hands, and standing in an arched doorway. The head-dress is of serpents; in one of the right hands is the diamond form the symbol of the Creator; in one of the left hands is the large Concha and in the other right hand, the great orb of the day; the shell is winged and has a phallic top.

This shell is said to have been the first priestly bell, and it is even now the Hindoo church-bell, in addition to gongs and trumpets. It comes specially into use when the priest performs his ceremonies before the Lingam; it is blown when he is about to anoint the emblem, like a bell is used in some Christian churches in the midst of ceremonies of particular importance and solemnity.

The female principle, or sacred Sacti, is also represented by a figure like that called a sistrum, a Hebrew musical instrument, sometimes translated cornet. Inman contends in spite of much opposition from his friends that this represents the mother who is still virgo intacta. He points out that in some things it embodies a somewhat different idea to the Yoni, the bars across it being bent so that they cannot be taken out, this showing that the door is closed.

The secret of this peculiar worship seems to lie in the fact, ever so prominent in all that has to do with the social and religious life of the Eastern, of an intense desire for offspring. In harmony with this is the frequent promise in the Scriptures[Pg 109] of an abundance of children and the declaration of happiness of the man so blessed. One instance may be noted as recorded in Genesis xiii., 16, the promise to Abram: “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” None the less fervent—perhaps even more so—is the desire of the Indian to possess and leave behind him a progeny who shall not only succeed to his worldly acquisitions, but by religious exercises help forward his happiness in the region of the departed.

It is said that in this part of the world, a constant topic of conversation amongst the men is their physical power to propagate their race, and that upon this matter physicians are more frequently consulted than upon any other. “Not only does the man think thus, but the female has her thoughts directed to the same channel, and there has been a special bell invented by Hindoo priests for childless females.” Some kindred belief seems to be held or suggested by the practices of the Mormon community, in which large numbers of women are united in marriage to one man. In Genesis xxx., Rachel seeing that she bore no children is described as envying her sister, and saying to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die.” Again 1 Samuel i., 10, 11: “And she (Hannah) was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but will give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord, &c.’” And so on; instances could be multiplied largely, but it is unnecessary.

With many of the eastern women it was a matter of the highest consequence that they have children, as failing to do so it was strictly within the legal rights of the husband at once to put away his wife by a summary divorce, or at any rate to take a[Pg 110] concubine into his home in order that he might not go childless; the woman who proved hopelessly barren became an object of contempt or commiseration to all about her, and her life a scene of prolonged shame and misery. And so, in certain parts of the world, arose sex worship, the idea being that by the worship of the organs of generation the misfortune of barrenness might be avoided. The priests were not slow to avail themselves of a ready means of adding to their reputation and influence and increasing their revenues, and women, who for some cause or another had hitherto been without offspring, were encouraged to visit the temples and make their proper offerings, and go through the prescribed ceremonies for curing their sterility. As willing as the women were for all this, were the men, and though sometimes the defect lay in themselves physically, it is said that the arrangements at the temples were such as almost invariably succeeded in making the wives mothers.

“If abundance of offspring was promised as a blessing,” says Dr. Inman, “it is clear to the physiologist that the pledge implies abundance of vigour in the man as well as in the woman. With a husband incompetent, no wife could be fruitful. The condition, therefore, of the necessary organs was intimately associated with the divine blessing or curse, and the impotent man then would as naturally go to the priest to be cured of his infirmity as we of to-day go to the physician. We have evidence that masses have been said, saints invoked, and offerings presented, for curing the debility we refer to, in a church in Christianised Italy during the last hundred years, and in France so late as the sixteenth century,—evident relics of more ancient times.”

“Whenever a votary applied to the oracle for help to enable him to perform his duties as a prospective father, or to remove that frigidity which he had been taught to believe was a proof of[Pg 111] Divine displeasure, or an evidence of his being bewitched by a malignant demon, it is natural to believe that the priest would act partly as a man of sense, though chiefly as a minister of God. He would go through, or enjoin attendance on certain religious ceremonies—would sell a charmed image, or use some holy oil, invented and blessed by a god or saint, as was done at Isernia—or he would do something else.”

Intimately connected with the worship of the male and female powers of generation is the sacred prostitution which was practised so generally by some of the ancient nations, and of which we have details in the classics. The information given by Herodotus respecting the women of Babylonia reads strange indeed to those who are acquainted only with modern codes of morals, and to whom the special and essential features of phallic faiths are unknown. This author describes it as a shameful custom, but he informs us of it as an indisputable fact, that every woman born in the country was compelled at least once in her life to go and sit in the precinct of Venus, and there consort with a stranger. Rich and poor alike had to conform to this rule—the ugly and the beautiful, the attractive and the repulsive. A peculiarity of the custom was that once having entered the sacred enclosure, the woman was not allowed to return home until she had paid the debt which the law prescribed as due from her to the state; the result of this was that those who were the happy possessors of personal charms seldom were detained very long, while the plain-featured and unattractive ones were sometimes several years before they could obtain their release. We are told that the wealthier women, too proud to associate with the lower class, though obliged to undergo the same ordeal, would drive to the appointed place in covered carriages with a considerable retinue of servants, there making as much display as possible of their rank and wealth in order to overawe the commoner class[Pg 112] of men, and drive them to females of humbler rank; they sat in their carriages while crowds of poorer people sat within the holy enclosure with wreaths of string about their heads. The scene was at once strange and animated; numbers of both sexes were coming and going; and lines of cords marked out paths in all directions in which the women sat, and along which the strangers passed in order to make their choice. Patiently or impatiently, as the case may be, the female waited till some visitor, taking a fancy to her, fixed upon her as his chosen sacrifice by throwing a piece of silver into her lap and saying, “The goddess Mylitta prosper thee.” (Mylitta being the Assyrian name for Venus). The coin need not be of any particular size or value, but it is obligatory upon her to receive it, because when once thrown it is sacred. Nor could the woman exercise any choice as to whom she could go with, the first who threw the coin had a legal title to her, and the law compelled her submission. But having once obeyed the law, she was free for the rest of her life, and nothing in the shape of a bribe, however extensive, would persuade her to grant further favours to any one.

There is an allusion to this custom in the book of Baruch (vi., 43), where it is said:—“The women also with cords about them, sitting in the ways, burn bran for perfume; but if any of them, drawn by some that passeth by, lie with him, she reproaches her fellow that she was not thought worthy as herself, nor her cords broken.” Strabo in his sixteenth book testifies to the same effect, and he says that the custom dated from the foundation of the city of Babylon. The same writer states also that both Medes and Armenians adopted all the sacred rites of the Persians, but that the Armenians paid particular reverence to Anaitis, and built temples to her honour in several places, especially in Acilisene. They dedicated there to her service male and female slaves, and in this, Strabo says, there was [Pg 113]nothing remarkable, but that it was surprising that persons of the highest rank in the nation consecrated their virgin daughters to the goddess. It was customary for these women, after being prostituted a long time at the temple of Anaitis, to be disposed of in marriage, no one disdaining a connection with such a person. He mentions what Herodotus says about the Lydian women, all of whom, he adds, prostituted themselves. But they treated their paramours with much kindness, entertaining them hospitably and frequently, making a return of more presents than they received, being amply supplied with means derived from their wealthy connexions. The Lydians indeed appear to have devoted themselves with the most shameless effrontery, for they not only attended the sacred fêtes occasionally for the purpose, but practised prostitution for their own benefit. A splendid monument to Alyattes, the father of Crœsus, built by the merchants, the artizans, and the courtesans, was chiefly paid for by the contributions of the latter, which far exceeded those of the others put together.

It has been asserted by some writers that sacred prostitution was not practised in Egypt, but so much is known of the character of certain acts of worship in that country that the statement is regarded as of little worth. The worship of Osiris and Isis, which was very much like that of Venus and Adonis, was attended with excesses that indicate a very abandoned state of things. It is known that when the pilgrims were on their way to the fêtes of Isis at Bubastis, the females indulged in the most indecent dances as the vessels passed the riverside villages, and historians declare that those obscenities were only such as were about to happen at the temple, which was visited each year by seven hundred thousand pilgrims, who gave themselves up to incredible excesses.

It cannot be shewn that the motive leading to what is called[Pg 114] sacred prostitution was the same in all countries; in India, for example, it appears to have had very much to do with the desire for children which we have described as common with the easterns; so common was it that the one object of woman’s life was marriage and a family. This, and the more rapid development of the female in that part of the world than in others, and the impression that dying childless she would fail to fulfil her mission lies at the basis of the early betrothals and marriages which appear so repulsive and absurd to European ideas. There is a further desire, however, than that of simply having children, especially in India; the desire is for male children, and where these fail, it is common for a man to adopt a son, and in this his motive is a religious one. According to prevalent superstition, it is held that the future beatitude of the Hindu depends upon the performance of his obsequies, and payment of his debts, by a son, as a means of redeeming him from an instant state of suffering after death. The dread is of a place called Put, a place of horror, to which the manes of the childless are supposed to be doomed; there to be tormented with hunger and thirst, for want of those oblations of food, and libations of water, at prescribed periods, which it is the pious and indispensable duty of a son to offer.

The “Laws of Manu” (Ch. ix., 138), state:—“A son delivers his father from the hell called Put, he was therefore called puttra (a deliverer from Put) by the Self-existent (Svayambhû) himself.” The sage Mandagola is represented as desiring admission to a region of bliss, but repulsed by the guards who watch the abode of progenitors, because he had no male issue. The “Laws of Manu” illustrate this by the special mention of heaven being attained without it as of something extraordinary. Ch. v., 159, “Many thousands of Brahmanas, who were chaste from their youth, have gone to heaven without continuing their race.”

[Pg 115]Sir Thomas Strange, many years ago Chief Justice of Madras, wrote very fully concerning the Hindu law of inheritance and adoption, and we learn from this great authority that marriage failing in this, its most important object (that is to say securing male issue), in order that obsequies in particular might not go unperformed, and celestial bliss be thereby forfeited, as well for ancestors as for the deceased, dying without leaving legitimate issue begotten, the old law was provident to excess, whence the different sorts of sons enumerated by different authorities, all resolving themselves, with Manu, into twelve, that is the legally begotten, and therefore not to be separately accounted:—all formerly, in their turn and order, capable of succession, for the double purpose of obsequies, and of inheritance. Failing a son, a Hindu’s obsequies may be performed by his widow; or in default of her, by a whole brother or other heirs; but according to the conception belonging to the subject, not with the same benefit as by a son. That a son, therefore, of some description is, with him, in a spiritual sense, next to indispensable is abundantly certain. As for obtaining one in a natural way, there is an express ceremony that takes place at the expiration of the third month of pregnancy, marking distinctly the importance of a son born, so is the adopting of one as anxiously inculcated where prayers and ceremonies for the desired issue have failed in their effect.

The extreme importance to the Hindu of having male offspring, and the desire to get such children as the result of marriage rather than by adoption—a practice allowed and inculcated as a last resort, has led to that extensive prevalence of Lingam worship which is such a conspicuous feature in India. In nearly every part of that vast empire are to be seen reproductions of the emblem in an infinite variety of form, and so totally free from the most remotely indecent character are they, that strangers are as a[Pg 116] rule totally ignorant of their meaning. We have even known, within the last few years, specimens of the smaller emblems being put up for sale in this country, of whose meaning the auctioneer professes himself for the most part ignorant, volunteering no other statement than that they were charms in some way connected with Hindu customs and worship.

It is—being a representation of the male organ—represented, of course, in a conical form, and is of every size, from half-an-inch to seventy feet, and of all materials, such as stone, wood, clay, metal, &c. Lingas are seen of enormous size; in the caves of Elephanta for instance, marking unequivocally that the symbol in question is at any rate as ancient as the temple, as they are of the same rock as the temple itself; both, as well as the floor, roof, pillars, pilastres, and its numerous sculptured figures, having been once one undistinguished mass of granite, which excavated, chiselled, and polished, produced the cavern and forms that are still contemplated with so much surprise and admiration. The magnitude of the cones, too, further preclude the idea of subsequent introduction, and together with gigantic statues of Siva and his consort, more frequent and more colossal than those of any other deity, necessarily coeval with the excavation, indicate his paramount adoration and the antiquity of his sect. Lingas are seen also of diminutive size for domestic adoration, or for personal use; some individuals always carrying one about with them, and in some Brahman families, one is daily constructed in clay, placed after due sanctification by appropriate ceremonies and prayers, in the domestic shrine, or under a tree or shrub sacred to Siva, the Bilva more especially, and honoured by the adoration of the females of the household.

It is rather singular that while many Hindus worship the deity of male and female in one, there are distinct sects which worship either the Lingam or the Yoni; the first being apparently the[Pg 117] same as the phallic emblem of the Greeks, the membrum virile: and the latter pudendum muliebre.

The interesting ceremony connected with the obsequies which we have just said can be the most effectually performed by a male child, and which gives rise to the intense longing both on the part of husband and wife for such offspring, is called Sradha, and is of daily recurrence with individuals who rigidly adhere to the ritual. It is offered in honour of deceased ancestors, but not merely in honour of them, but for their comfort; as the Manes, as well as the gods connected with them, enjoy, like the gods of the Greeks, the incense of such offerings, which are also of an expiatory nature, similar, it is said, to the masses of the Church of Rome. Over these ceremonies of Sradhi presides Yama, in his character of Sradhadeva, or lord of the obsequies. It is not within our province to give a detailed account of these ceremonies, but owing to their connection with the subject generally of our book, a brief outline will no doubt prove interesting.

A dying man, when no hopes of his surviving remain, should be laid upon a bed of cusa grass, either in the house or out of it, if he be a Sudra, but in the open air, if he belong to another tribe. When he is at the point of death, donations of cattle, land, gold, silver, or other things, according to his ability, should be made by him; or if he be too weak, by another person in his name. His head should be sprinkled with water drawn from the Ganges, and smeared with clay brought from the same river. A Salagrama stone ought to be placed near the dying man; holy strains from the Veda or from the sacred poems should be repeated aloud in his ears; and leaves of holy basil must be scattered over his head.

Passing over the ceremonial more especially connected with the burning of the corpse as not particularly relative to our subject, we proceed. After the body has been burnt, all who have[Pg 118] touched or followed the corpse, must walk round the pile keeping their left hands towards it, and taking care not to look at the fire. They then walk in procession, according to seniority, to a river or other running water, and after washing, and again putting on their apparel, they advance into the stream. They then ask the deceased’s brother-in-law, or some other person able to give the proper answer, “Shall we present water?” If the deceased were a hundred years old, the answer must be simply, “do so:” but if he were not so aged, the reply is “do so, but do not repeat the oblation.” Upon this they all shift the sacerdotal string to the right shoulder, and looking towards the south, and being clad in a single garment without a mantle, they stir the water with the ring finger of the left hand, saying, “waters, purify us.” With the same finger of the right hand, they throw up some water towards the south, and after plunging once under the surface of the river, they rub themselves with their hands. An oblation of water must be next presented from the jointed palms of the hands, naming the deceased and the family from which he sprung, and saving “may this oblation reach thee.”

After finishing the usual libations of water to satisfy the manes of the deceased, they quit the river and shift their wet clothes for other apparel; they then sip water without swallowing it, and sitting down on soft turf, alleviate their sorrow by the recital of such moral sentences as the following, refraining at the same time from tears and lamentation:—

1. Foolish is he, who seeks permanence in the human state, unsolid like the stem of a plantain tree, transient like the foam of the sea.

2. When a body, formed of fine elements to receive the rewards of deeds done in its own former person, reverts to its fine original principles; what room is there for regret.

3. The earth is perishable; the ocean, the Gods themselves[Pg 119] pass away: how should not that bubble, mortal man, meet destruction.

4. All that is low, must finally perish; all that is elevated, must ultimately fall; all compound bodies must end in dissolution; and life is concluded with death.

5. Unwillingly do the manes of the deceased taste the tears and rheum shed by their kinsmen: then do not wait, but diligently perform the obsequies of the dead.

All the kinsmen of the deceased, within the sixth degree of consanguinity, should fast for three days and nights; or one at the least. However if that be impracticable, they may eat a single meal at night, purchasing the food ready prepared, but on no account preparing the victuals at home. So long as the mourning lasts, the nearest relations of the deceased must not exceed the daily meal, nor eat flesh-meat, nor any food seasoned with fictitious salt; they must use a plate made of leaves of any tree but the plantain, or else take their food from the hands of some other persons; they must not handle a knife or any other implement made of iron; nor sleep upon a bedstead; nor adorn their persons; but remain squalid, and refrain from perfumes and other gratifications: they must likewise omit the daily ceremonies of ablution and divine worship. On the third and fifth days, as also on the seventh and ninth, the kinsmen assemble, bathe in the open air, offer tila and water to the deceased, and take a repast together: they place lamps at cross roads, and in their own houses, and likewise on the way to the cemetery; and they observe vigils in honour of the deceased.

On the last day of mourning, or earlier in those countries where the obsequies are expedited on the second or third day, the nearest kinsman of the deceased gathers his ashes after offering a sradha singly for him.

[Pg 120]In the first place, the kinsman smears with cow-dung the spots where the oblation is to be presented; and after washing his hands and feet, sipping water and taking up cusa grass in his hand, he sits down on a cushion pointed towards the south, and placed upon a blade of cusa grass, the tip of which must also point towards the south. He then places near him a bundle of cusa grass, consecrated by pronouncing the word namah! or else prepares a fire for oblations. Then lighting a lamp with clarified butter or with oil of sesamum, and arranging the food and other things intended to be offered, he must sprinkle himself with water, meditating on Vishnu, surnamed the lotos-eyed, or revolving in his mind this verse, “Whether pure or defiled, or wherever he may have gone, he, who re-enters the being whose eyes are like the lotos, shall be pure externally and internally.” Shifting the sacerdotal cord on his right shoulder, he takes up a brush of cusa grass and presents water together with tila and with blossoms, naming the deceased and the family from which he sprung, and saying “may this water for ablutions be acceptable to thee.” Then saying “may this be right,” he pronounces a vow or solemn declaration. “This day I will offer on a bundle of cusa grass (or, if such be the custom, ‘on fire’) a sradha for a single person, with unboiled food, together with clarified butter and with water, preparatory to the gathering of the bones of such a one deceased.” The priests answering “do so,” he says “namó! namah!” while the priests meditate the gayatri and thrice repeat, “Salutation to the Gods; to the manes of ancestors, and to mighty saints; to Swáhá [goddess of fire]: to Swádhá [the food of the manes]: salutation unto them for ever and ever.”

He then presents a cushion made of cusa grass, naming the deceased and saying “may this be acceptable to thee;” and afterwards distributes meal of sesamum, while the priests recite “May the demons and fierce giants that sit on this consecrated spot, be[Pg 121] dispersed; and the bloodthirsty savages that inhabit the earth; may they go to any other place, to which their inclinations may lead them.”

Placing an oval vessel with its narrowest end towards the south, he takes up two blades of grass; and breaking off a span’s length, throws them into the vessel; and after sprinkling them with water, makes a libation while the priests say, “May divine waters be auspicious to us for accumulation, for gain, and for refreshing draughts; may they listen to us, and grant that we may be associated with good auspices.” He then throws tila while the priests say, “Thou art tila, sacred to Soma; framed by the divinity, thou dost produce celestial bliss [for him, that makes oblations]; mixed with water may thou long satisfy our ancestors with the food of the manes, be this oblation efficacious.” He afterwards silently casts into the vessel, perfumes, flowers, and durva grass. Then taking up the vessel with his left hand, putting two blades of grass on the cushion, with their tips pointed to the north, he must pour the water from the argha thereon. The priests meantime recite:—“The waters in heaven, in the atmosphere, and on the earth, have been united [by their sweetness] with milk; may those silver waters, worthy of oblation, be auspicious, salutary, and exhilarating to us; and be happily offered: may this oblation be efficacious.” He adds namah, and pours out the water, naming the deceased and saying, “may this argha be acceptable unto thee.” Then oversetting the vessel, and arranging in due order the unboiled rice condiments, clarified butter, and the requisites, he scatters tila, while the priests recite “Thrice did Vishnu step, &c.” He next offers the rice, clarified butter, water and condiments, while he touches the vessel with his left hand, and names the deceased, saying, “may this raw food, with clarified butter and condiments, together with water, be acceptable unto thee.” After the priests have repeated the gayatri[Pg 122] preceded by the names of the worlds, he pours honey or sugar upon the rice, while they recite this prayer, “may the winds blow sweet, the rivers flow sweet, and salutary herbs be sweet, unto us; may night be sweet, may the mornings pass sweetly; may the soil of the earth, and heaven parent [of all productions], be sweet unto us; may [Soma] king of herbs and trees be sweet: may the sun be sweet, may kine be sweet unto us.” He then says “namó! namah!” While the priests recite “whatever may be deficient in this food; whatever may be imperfect in this rite; whatever may be wanting in this form; may all that become faultless.”

He should then feed the Brahmanas, whom he has assembled, either silently distributing food amongst them, or adding a respectful invitation to them to eat. When he has given them water to rinse their mouths, he may consider the deceased as fed through their intervention. The priests again recite the gayatri and the prayer “may the winds blow sweet,” &c., and add the prescribed prayers, which should be followed by the music of flageolets, lutes, drums, &c.

Taking in his left hand another vessel containing tila, blossoms and water, and in his left hand a brush made of cusa grass, he sprinkles water over the grass spread on the consecrated spot, naming the deceased and saying “May this ablution be acceptable to thee:” he afterwards takes a cake or ball or food mixed with clarified butter, and presents it saying, “May this cake be acceptable to thee,” and deals out the food with this prayer; “Ancestors, rejoice; take your respective shares, and be strong as bulls.” Then walking round by the left to the northern side of the consecrated spot, and meditating, “Ancestors, be glad; take your respective shares, and be strong as bulls,” he returns by the same road, and again sprinkles water on the ground to wash the oblation, saying, “May this ablution be acceptable to thee.”

Next, touching his hip with his elbow, or else his right side,[Pg 123] and having sipped water, he must make six libations of water with the hollow palms of his hands, saying, “Salvation unto thee, O deceased, and unto the saddening [hot] season; salvation unto thee, O deceased, and unto the month of tapas [or dewy season]; salvation unto thee, O deceased, and unto that [season] which abounds with water; salvation unto thee, O deceased, and to the nectar [of blossoms]; salvation unto thee, O deceased, and to the terrible and angry [season]; salvation unto thee, O deceased, and to female fire [or the sultry season].”

He next offers a thread on the funeral cake, holding the wet brush in his hand, naming the deceased, and saying, “May this raiment be acceptable to thee;” the priests add, “Fathers, this apparel is offered unto you.” He then silently strews perfumes, blossoms, resin, and betel leaves, as the funeral cake, and places a lighted lamp on it. He sprinkles water on the bundle of grass, saying, “May the waters be auspicious;” and offers rice, adding, “May the blossoms be sweet: may the rice be harmless;” and then pours water on it, naming the deceased and saying, “May this food and drink be acceptable unto thee.” In the next place he strews grass over the funeral cake, and sprinkles water on it, reciting this prayer: “Waters! ye are the food of our progenitors; satisfy my parents, ye who convey nourishment, which is ambrosia, butter, milk, cattle, and distilled liquor.” Lastly, he smells some of the food, and poises in his hand the funeral cakes, saying, “May this ball be wholesome food;” and concludes, paying the officiating priest his fee with a formal declaration, “I do give this fee (consisting of so much money) to such a one (a priest sprung from such a family, and who uses such a veda and such a sacha of it), for the purpose of fully completing the obsequies this day performed by me in honour of one person singly, preparatory to the gathering of the bones of such a one deceased.”

[Pg 124]After the priest has thrice said: “Salutation to the gods, to progenitors, to mighty saints, &c.,” he dismisses him; lights a lamp in honour of the deceased; meditates on Heri with undiverted attention; casts the food, and other things used at the obsequies, into the fire; and then proceeds to the cemetery for the purpose of gathering the ashes of the deceased.

So long as mourning lasts after gathering the ashes, the near relations of the deceased continue to offer water with the same formalities and prayers as already mentioned, and to refrain from factitious salt, butter, &c. On the last day of mourning, the nearest relation puts on neat apparel, and causes his house and furniture to be cleaned; he then goes out of the town, and after offering the tenth funeral cake, he makes ten libations of water from the palms of his hands; causes the hair of his head and body to be shaved, and his nails to be cut, and gives the barber the clothes which were worn at the funeral of the deceased, and adds some other remuneration. He then anoints his head and limbs, down to his feet, with oil of sesamum; rubs all his limbs with meal of sesamum, and his head with the ground pods of white mustard; he bathes, sips water, touches and blesses various auspicious things, such as stones, clarified butter, leaves of Nimba, white mustard, Durva grass, coral, a cow, gold, curds, honey, a mirror, and a couch, and also touches a bamboo staff. He now returns purified to his home, and thus completes the first obsequies of the deceased.

The second series of obsequies, commencing on the day after the period of mourning has elapsed, is opened by a lustration termed the consolatory ceremony. The lustration consists in the consecration of four vessels of water, and sprinkling therewith the house, the furniture, and the persons belonging to the family. After lighting a fire, and blessing the attendant Brahmanas, the priest fills four vessels with water, and, putting his hand into the[Pg 125] first, meditates the gayatri, before and after reciting the following prayers: 1.—May generous waters be auspicious to us, for gain and for refreshing draughts; may they approach towards us, that we may be associated with good auspices. 2.—Earth afford us ease; be free from thorns; be habitable. Widely extended as thou art, procure us happiness. 3.—O waters! since ye afford delight, grant us food, and the rapturous sight [of the Supreme Being]. 4.—Like tender mothers, make us here partakers of your most auspicious essence.

Putting his hand into the second vessel, the priest meditates the gayatri, and the four prayers above quoted; adding some others, and concluding this second consecration of water by once more meditating the gayatri.

Then taking a lump of sugar and a copper vessel in his left hand, biting the sugar and spitting it out again, the priest sips water. Afterwards putting his hand into the third vessel, he meditates the gayatri and the four prayers above cited, interposing this: May Indra and Varuna [the regents of the sky and of the ocean] accept our oblations, and grant us happiness; may Indra and the cherishing sun grant us happiness in the distribution of food; may Indra and the moon grant us the happiness of attaining the road to celestial bliss, and the association of good auspices.

It is customary immediately after this lustration to give away a vessel of tila, and also a cow, for the sake of securing the passage of the deceased over the Vaitarani, or river of hell: whence the cow, so given, is called Vaitarani-dhenu. Afterwards a bed, with its furniture, is brought; and the giver sits down near the Brahmana, who has been invited to receive the present. After saying, “Salutation to this bed with its furniture; salutation to this priest, to whim it is given,” he pays due honour to the Brahmana in the usual form of hospitality. He then pours water into his hand, saying, “I give thee this bed with its furniture;”[Pg 126] the priest replies, “give it.” Upon this he sprinkles it with water; and taking up the cusa grass, tila, and water, delivers them to the priest, pouring the water into his hand, with a formal declaration of the gift and its purpose; and again delivers a bit of gold with cusa grass, &c., making a similar formal declaration, 1.—This day, I, being desirous of obtaining celestial bliss for such a one defunct, do give unto thee, such a one, a Brahmana descended from such a family, to whom due honour has been shown, this bed and furniture, which has been duly honoured, and which is sacred to Vishnu. 2. This day I give unto thee (so and so) this gold, sacred to fire, as a sacerdotal fee, for the sake of confirming the donation I have made of this bed and furniture. The Brahmana both times replies “be it well.” Then lying upon the bed, and touching it with the upper part of his middle finger, he meditates the gayatri with suitable prayers, adding “This bed is sacred to Vishnu.”

With similar ceremonies and declarations he next gives away to a Brahmana, a golden image of the deceased, or else a golden idol, or both. Afterwards he distributes other presents among Brahmanas for the greater honour of the deceased. Of course, all this can only be done by rich people.

The principal remaining ceremonies consist chiefly of the obsequies called sradhas. The first set of funeral ceremonies is adopted to effect, by means of oblations, the reimbodying of the soul of the deceased, after burning his corpse. The apparent scope of the second is to raise his shade from this world (where it would else, according to the notions of the Hindus, continue to roam among demons and evil spirits), up to heaven, and there deify him, as it were, among the manes of departed ancestors. For this end, a sradha should regularly be offered to the deceased on the day after mourning expires; twelve other sradhas singly to the deceased in twelve successive months: similar [Pg 127]obsequies at the end of the third fortnight, and also in the sixth month, and in the twelfth; and the oblation called Sapindana, on the first anniversary of his decease. In most provinces the periods for these sixteen ceremonies, and for the concluding obsequies entitled Sapindana, are anticipated, and the whole is completed on the second or third day. After which they are again performed at the proper times, but in honour of the whole set of progenitors, instead of the deceased singly. The obsequies intended to raise the shade of the deceased to heaven are thus completed. Afterwards, a sradha is annually offered to him on the anniversary of his decease.

What we have just described, elaborate as it looks, is simply an abridgment of the long and complicated ceremonies attendant upon the funeral and after obsequies of a rich man among the Hindus, but it is enough for our purpose. It shows the vast importance attached to those obsequies, and enables us to understand the desire on the part of these Hindus to have children who will in a proper and acceptable manner carry out these proceedings. We have already quoted from the sacred books to show that a son was regarded as better able to perform those duties than any other relation, and that failing such offspring in the ordinary course of nature, it was obligatory upon the would be father to adopt one.

Dulaure and some other writers describe a variety of ceremonies which were taken part in by the women in order to procure the children who would satisfy the cravings of their husbands. It is probable that a good deal of what took place at the shrines of heathen goddesses in other lands, arose from this anxiety, and not altogether from a merely licentious habit of character and disposition. It has been said, as we may have already suggested perhaps, that the priests connected with some of the temples resorted to by childless women for the cure of[Pg 128] their misfortune, were cunning enough to provide for what was wanted in a more practical way than by the simple performance of certain ceremonies, and that where the failure to produce children was due to some fault on the part of the husband, means were at hand by which the woman soon found herself in the desired condition. It is rather singular that something very similar was found among the Jewish women in the time of Ezekiel, as we have found in India; the Indian woman sacrificed her virginity at the shrine of the Lingam, and in the 16th chapter of the prophet’s book, verse 17, we read:—“Thou didst take also thy fair jewels of my gold, and didst make to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them.” The latter, however, was evidently of a very different character to the former, being nothing more or less than the impure worship of Priapus as carried on in the orgies of Osiris, Bacchus, and Adonis, the images of the Hebrew women being such as the Priapi used in those ceremonies; on no account must those foolish and filthy practices be confounded with that act of worship which men in primitively simple condition rendered to the agents employed in the act of generation, which was innocently regarded as only one of the operations of nature.

The moral of this part of the subject, and with which for the present we take leave of it, is this, that the Eastern, from his views of the future life, deems it absolutely necessary that he should leave offspring, either real or adopted, behind him, to carry out the obligations imposed by his religion, and that in order to attain in the possession of what is to him such a blessing, he is called upon to propitiate in every possible manner the physical agents and powers employed in the process,—hence the rise and practice of phallic worship.






[1] See Dudley’s Naology.

[2] Edin. Rev., 1870, p. 239.

[3] Jewitt.

[4] Hawkins’ Sketch of the Creek Country.

[5] Myths of the New World.

[6] Jewitt in Art Journal, 1876.

[7] Quoted by Jewitt, in Art Journal, 1874.

[8] Lysons, Our British Ancestors.

[9] Cory, Mytho. Inquiry.

[10] Cory, Mytho. Inquiry.

[11] Faber, Orig. Pag. Idol.

[12] Meyrick’s Cardigan.

[13] Inman, Anc. Faiths. I.

[14] Rivers of Life.

[15] Dr. Beke.

[16] Dr. F. A. Cox.

[17] Ewald, Antiq. Israel.

[18] Mems. Anthrop. Soc. 1.

[19] Lewis. Origines Heb.

[20] Keys of the Creeds, V.




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