IF WE CLOSELY EXAMINE the elder forms of religious worship, we will find in most of them that God is worshiped under the symbol of the sun. This is not only true of those nations called pagan, but we also find in the Bible itself the sun alluded to as the most perfect and appropriate symbol of the creator. The sun is the most splendid and glorious object in nature. The regularity of its course knows no change. It is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." It is the physical and magnetic source of all life and motion. Its light is a type of eternal truth; its warmth of universal benevolence. It is therefore not strange that man in all ages has selected the sun as the highest and most perfect emblem of God. There is a natural tendency, however, in the human mind, to confound all symbols with the person or thing which they were at first only intended to illustrate. In the course of time we therefore find that most nations forgot the worship of the true God, and began to adore the sun itself, which they thus deified and personified. The sun thus personified was made the theme of allegorical history, emblematic of his yearly passage through the twelve constellations.
The zodiac is the apparent path of the sun among the stars. It was divided by the ancients into twelve equal parts, composed of the clusters of stars, named after "living creatures," typical of the twelve months. This glittering belt of stars was therefore called the zodiac, that word meaning "living creatures," being derived from the greek word zodiakos, which comes from zo-on, an animal. This latter word is compounded directly from the primitive Egyptian radicals, zo, life, and on, a being.
The sun, as he pursued his wan among these "living creatures" of the zodiac, was said, in allegorical language, either to assume the nature of or to triumph over the sign he entered. The sun thus became a Bull in Taurus, and was worshiped as such by the Egyptians under the name of Apis, and by the Assyrians as Bel, Baal, or Bul. In Leo the sun became a Lion-slayer, Hercules, and an Archer in Sagittarius. In Pisces, the Fishes—he was a fish—Dagon, or Vishnu, the fish-god of the Philistines and Hindoos. When the sun enters Capricornus he reaches his lowest southern declination; afterward as he emerges from that sign the days become longer, and the Sun grows rapidly in light and heat; hence we are told in the mythology that the Sun, or Jupiter, was suckled by a goat. The story of the twelve labors of Hercules is but an allegory of the passage of the sun through the twelve signs of the zodiac, and past the constellations of proximity thereto.
The beautiful virgin of the zodiac, Virgo, together with the Moon, under a score of different names, furnishes the female element in these mythological stories, the wonderful adventures of the gods. These fables are most of them absurd enough if understood as real histories, but, the allegorical key being given, many of them are found to contain profound and sublime astronomical truths. This key was religiously kept secret by the priests and philosophers, and was only imparted to those who were initiated into the MYSTERIES. The profane and vulgar crowd were kept in darkness, and believed in and worshiped a real Hercules or Jupiter, whom they thought actually lived and performed all the exploits and underwent all the transformations of the mythology.
By these means the priests of Egypt ruled the people with a despotic power. The fables of the mythology disclosed to them grand scientific truths, and to them only. The very stories themselves served to perpetuate those truths for the benefit of the initiated, and also formed an easy vehicle for their transmission. Books were not only rare and difficult of multiplication, but it is also probable that, in order that scientific knowledge might be concealed, it was considered unlawful to commit it to writing. If in special cases it became an absolute necessity to do so, the sacred hieroglyphs were employed. These were known only to the initiated; there was another sort of written characters used by the common people. (Rawlin-son's "Herodotus," Appendix to Book II, Chapter V.)
Science was thus for the most part orally transmitted from one hierophant to another. While an abstruse and difficult lecture is not easy, either to remember or to repeat, on the contrary, a mythological tale can with ease be retained in the memory and communicated to another, together with the key for interpretation. These fables, therefore, served a threefold purpose:
1. They kept the secrets of science from all but those who understood the key to them;
2. Being themselves easy to remember, they served on the principle of the art of mnemonics, or artificial memory, to keep alive the recollection of scientific facts which otherwise might be lost;
3. Being the means of keeping the people in ignorance, by their use the priests were enabled to rule them through their superior power of working apparent miracles.
The science in which the Egyptian priesthood were most proficient, and which they most jealously guarded, was that of astronomy. The people worshiped the sun, moon, and stars as gods, and a knowledge of their true nature would have at once put an end to the influence of the priests, who were believed by the ignorant and superstitious crowd to be able to withhold or dispense, by prayers, invocations, and sacrifices, the divine favor. The priest of a pretended god, when once his god is exposed, stands before the world a convicted impostor. To deny the divinity of the sun, moon, and stars, or, what was the same thing, to permit science to disclose their true nature to the masses of the people was consequently held by the priesthood of Egypt as the highest of crimes. By a knowledge of astronomy the priests were able to calculate and to predict eclipses of the sun and moon, events beheld with superstitious awe and fear by the multitude. Seeing how certainly these predictions, when thus made, were fulfilled, the priests were credited with the power to foretell other events, and to look into the future generally. So they cast horoscopes and assumed to be prophets.
Of course, a knowledge of astronomy diffused among the people would have been fatal to these pretensions. The facts of astronomy were therefore, for these reasons most carefully hidden from the common people, and the priesthood only communicated them to each other, veiled in allegorical fables, the key to which was disclosed to him only who had taken the highest degrees of the Mysteries, and given the most convincing proofs of his fidelity and zeal.
The names under which the sun was personified were many, but the one great feature, most prolific of fables, was his great decline in light and heat during the winter, and his renewal in glory and power at the vernal equinox and summer solstice, which gave rise to all that class of legends which represent the sun-god (under various names) as dying and being restored to life again.
Thus, we are told, in the Egyptian sacred legend, that Osirus, or the Sun, was slain by Typhon, a gigantic monster, typical of darkness and the evil powers of nature. The body was placed in a chest, thrown into the Nile, and swept out to sea. Isis, or the Moon personified as a goddess, ransacks the whole earth in search of the body, which she finds horribly mutilated. She joins the dissevered parts, and raises him to life again.
In the Greek mythology we are told that Adonis (the Lord, or sun-god) is slain, but it returns to life again for six months each year—thus dying in the fall and winter months and returning to life again during the spring and summer.
The ritual of the Mysteries in Egypt, India and Greece, was founded upon this legend, in some form, of the death and resurrection of the personified sun-god.
The Egyptian Mysteries of Osiris and Isis were in the form of a mystic drama, representing the death by violence of Osiris (the sun-god), the search for his body by Isis, the Moon, and its finding and being raised to life and power again. In the celebration of these Mysteries the neophyte was made to perform all the mysterious wanderings of the goddess amid the most frightful scenes. He was guided by one of the initiated, who wore a mask representing a dog's head, in allusion to the bright star Sothis (Sirius, or the dog-star), so called because the rising of that star each year above the horizon just before day gave warning of the approaching inundation of the Nile. The word Sothis means the "barker," or "monitor."
The candidate was by this guide conducted through a dark and mysterious labyrinth. With much pain he struggled through involved paths, over horrid chasms, in darkness and terror. At length he arrived at a stream of water, which he was directed to pass. Suddenly, however, he was assaulted and 10
arrested by three men, disguised in grotesque forms, who taking a cup of water from the stream, forced the terrified candidate to first drink of it. This was the water of forgetfulness, by drinking which all his former crimes were to be forgotten, and his mind prepared to receive new instructions of virtue and truth.
The attack of Typhon, or the spirit of darkness, typical of the evil powers of nature, upon Osiris, who was slain, was also enacted as the initiation progressed, and amid the most terrible scenes, during which the "judgment of the dead" was also represented, and the punishments of the wicked exhibited as realities to the candidate. The search for the body of Osiris, which was concealed in the mysterious chest or "ark," followed. The mutilated remains were at last found, and deposited amid loud cries of sorrow and despair. The initiation closed with the return of Osirus to life and power. The candidate now beheld, amid effulgent beams of light, the joyful mansions of the blessed, and the resplendent plains of paradise.
I saw the sun at midnight" (says Apuleius, speaking of his own initiation into the Mysteries of Isis) "shining with its brilliant light, and I approached the presence of the gods beneath, and the gods of heaven, and stood near and worshiped them. (See "Metamorphosis")
At this stage of the initiation, all was life, light, and joy. The candidate was himself figuratively considered to have risen to a new and more perfect life. The past was dead, with all its crimes and unhappiness. Henceforth the candidate was under the special protection of Isis, to whose service he dedicated his new life. (See Apuleius.)
The sublime mysteries of religion and the profoundest teachings of science were now revealed to him, and satisfied his thirst for knowledge, while the possession of power as one of the hierarchy gratified his ambition.
The Mysteries of all the other nations of antiquity were quite similar to those of Egypt, and were no doubt derived from them.
In India the chief deity was triune, and consisted of Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Preserver, and Siva, the Destroyer. Brahma was the representative of the rising sun, and the others respectively of the meridian and the setting sun. The aspirant having been sprinkled with water and divested of his shoes, was causing to circumambulate the altar three times.
At the east, west, and south points of the mystic circle were stationed triangularly the three representatives of the sun-god, denoting the rising, setting, and meridian sun. Each time the aspirant arrived in the sough he was made to exclaim, "I copy the example of the sun, and follow his benevolent course."
After further ceremonies, consisting in the main of solemn admonitions by the chief Brahman to lead a life of purity and holiness, the aspirant was again placed in charge of his conductor, and enjoined to maintain strict silence under the severest penalty; told to summon up all his fortitude and betray no symptoms of cowardice.
Amid the gloom then began bewailings for the loss of the sun-god Sita, followed by ceremonies of fearful import, and scenic representations of a terrible nature. The candidate was made to personify Vishnu, and engaged in a contest with the powers of darkness, which, as the representative of the god, he subdued. This was followed by a dazzling display of light, and a view of Brahma exalted, glorified, and triumphant.
In Persia the candidate was prepared by numerous lustrations performed with water, fire, and honey. A prolonged fast for fifty days in a gloomy cavern followed, where in solitude he endured cold, hunger, and stripes. After this the candidate was introduced for initiation into another cavern, where he was received on the point of a sword presented to, and slightly wounding, his naked left breast. He was next crowned with olive, anointed with the sacred oil, and clad in enchanted armor. He was then taken through the seven stages of his initiation. As he traversed the circuitous mazes of the gloomy cavern his fortitude was tried by fire and water, and by apparent combats with wild beasts and hideous forms, typical of the evil powers of nature, in the midst of darkness, relieved only by flashes of lightening and the pealing of thunder. He was next made to behold the torments of the wicked in Hades. This was followed by a view of Elysium, and the initiation concluded by a display of divine light and the final triumph of Ormuzd, the sun-god, over all the powers of darkness.
In Greece the Mysteries were denominated as the lesser and greater Mysteries. A chosen few only were admitted to the latter, and they were bound to secrecy by the most frightful oaths.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were performed by the Athenians at Eleusis every fifth year, and were subsequently introduced at Rome by Adrian. These Mysteries were the same as those of Orpheus. A magnificent temple of vast extent having been erected for their celebration at Eleusis, they subsequently became known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. The principal officers who conducted the ceremonies were the Hierophant, the Torch-Bearer, the Priest, the Archon, or King, and the Mystagogue.
The hierophant appeared seated upon a magnificent throne, adorned with gold. He was dressed in a royal robe; over his head a rainbow was arched, and there also the moon and seven stars were seen. Around his neck was suspended a golden globe. These expressive symbols all point all the fact that the hierophant represented the sun. Before him were twenty-four attendants, clad in white robes and wearing golden crowns. These represented the twenty-four ancient constellations of the upper hemisphere. Around him burned with dazzling radiance seven lights, denoting the seven planets. The torch-bearer, whose duty it was to lead the procession when the wanderings of Rhea commenced in search of the body of the lost god, may have been intended to represent the feebler light of the moon, since Rhea and Ceres were both identical, according to Herodotus, with the Egyptian Isis. The duty of the mystagogue was to impose silence on the assembly, and command the profane to withdraw. The priest officiated at the altar, and bore the symbol of the moon, being, like the Egyptian priests of Isis, devoted to her service.
The archon, or king, preserved order, offered also prayers and sacrifices, compelled all unworthy and uninitiated persons to retire at the order of the mystagogue, and punished all who presumed to disturb the sacred rites. The aspirant was required to pass through a period of probation, during which he prepared himself by chastity, fasting, prayer, and penitence. He was then dressed in sacred garments, crowned with myrtle, and blindfolded. After being thus "duly and truly prepared" he was delivered over to the Mystagogue, who began the initiation by the prescribed proclamation:
"Exas, exas, este Bebeloi!" — ("Depart hence, all ye profane!")
The aspirant was then conducted on a long and painful pilgrimage through many dark and circuitous passages: sometimes it seemed to him as if he were ascending steep hills, walking over flinty ground, which tore his feet at every step, and again down deep valleys and through dense and difficult forests. Meanwhile as he advanced, sounds of terror surrounded him, and he heard the fierce roar of wild beasts and the hissing of serpents. At length, the bandage being removed from his eyes, he found himself in what seem a wild and uncultivated country. The light of day never penetrated this gloomy region, and the pale and spectral glare just served to light up the horrors of the scene. Lions, tigers, hyenas and venomous serpents menaced him at every point while thunder, lightening, fire and water, tempest and earthquake, threatened the destruction of the entire world. He hardly recovers from his surprise and terror,
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