Ancient and Modern Symbolism - Thomas Inman - ebook
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We search into emblems with an intention different from that with which we inquire into ordinary language. The last tells us of the relationship of nations upon Earth, the first of the probable connections of mankind with Heaven. The devout Christian believes that all who venerate the Cross may hope for a happy eternity, without ever dreaming that the sign of his faith is as ancient as Homeric Troy, and was used by the Phoenicians probably before the Jews had any existence as a people; whilst an equally pious Mahometan regards the Crescent as the passport to the realms of bliss, without a thought that the symbol was in use long before the Prophet of Allah was born, and amongst those nations which it was the Prophet's mission to convert or to destroy. Letters and words mark the ordinary current of man's thought, whilst religious symbols show the nature of his aspirations.

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Table of contents

INTRODUCTION.

PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN SYMBOLISM.

APPENDIX: THE ASSYRIAN "GROVE" AND OTHER EMBLEMS

INTRODUCTION.

It may, we think, be taken for granted, that nothing is, or has ever been, adopted into the service of Religion, without a definite purpose. If it be supposed that a religion is built upon the foundation of a distinct revelation from the Almighty, as the Hebrew is said to be, there is a full belief that every emblem, rite, ceremony, dress, symbol, etc., has a special signification. Many earnest Christians, indeed, see in Judaic ordinances a reference to Jesus of Nazareth. I have, for example, heard a pious man assert that "leprosy" was only another word for "sin"; but he was greatly staggered in this belief when I pointed out to him that if a person's whole body was affected he was no longer unclean (Lev. xiii. 13), which seemed on the proposed hypothesis to demonstrate that when a sinner was as black as hell he was the equal of a saint. According to such an interpreter, the paschal lamb is a type of Jesus, and consequently all whom his blood sprinkles are blocks of wood, lintels, and side-posts (Exod. xii. 22, 28). By the same style of metaphorical reasoning, Jesus was typified by the "scape-goat," and the proof is clear, for one was driven away into the wilderness, and the other voluntarily went there—one to be destroyed, the other to be tempted by the devil! Hence we infer that there is nothing repugnant to the minds of the pious in an examination respecting the use of symbols, and into that which is shadowed forth by them. What has been done for Judaism may be attempted for other forms of religion.As the Hebrews and Christians believe their religion to be God-given, so other nations, having a different theology, regard their own peculiar tenets. Though we may, with that unreasoning prejudice and blind bigotry which are common to the Briton and the Spaniard, and pre-eminently so to the mass of Irish and Scotchmen amongst ourselves, and to the Carlists in the peninsula, disbelieve a heathen pretension to a divine revelation, we cannot doubt that the symbols, etc., of Paganism have a meaning, and that it is as lawful to scrutinise the mysteries which they enfold as it is to speculate upon the Urim and Thummim of the Jews. Yet, even this freedom has, by some, been denied; for there are a few amongst us who adhere rigidly to the precept addressed to the followers of Moses, viz., "Take heed that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods?" (Deut. xii. 30.) The intention of the prohibition thus enunciated is well marked in the following words, 1 which indicate that the writer believed that the adoption of heathen gods would follow inquiry respecting them. It is not now-a-days feared that we may become Mahometans if we read the Koran, or Buddhists if we study the Dhammapada; but there are priests who fear that an inquiry into ecclesiastical matters may make their followers Papists, Protestants, Wesleyans, Baptists, Unitarians, or some other religion which the Presbytery object to. The dislike of inquiry ever attends those who profess a religion which is believed or known to be weak.* "even so will I do likewise."The philosopher of the present day, being freed from the shackles once riveted around him by a dominant hierarchy, may regard the precept in Deuteronomy in another light. Seeing that the same symbolism is common to many forms of religion, professed in countries widely apart both as regards time and space, he thinks that the danger of inquiry into faiths is not the adoption of foreign, but the relinquishment of present methods of religious belief. When we see the same ideas promulgated as divine truth, on the ancient banks of the Ganges, and the modern shores of the Mediterranean, we are constrained to admit that they have something common in their source. They may be the result of celestial revelation, or they may all alike emanate from human ingenuity. As men invent new forms of religion now, there is a presumption that others may have done so formerly. As all men are essentially human, so we may believe that their inventions will be characterised by the virtues and the failings of humanity. Again, experience tells us that similarity in thought involves similarity in action. Two sportsmen, seeing a hare run off from between them, will fire at it so simultaneously that each is unaware that the other shot. So a resemblance in religious belief will eventuate in the selection of analogous symbolism.We search into emblems with an intention different from that with which we inquire into ordinary language. The last tells us of the relationship of nations upon Earth, the first of the probable connections of mankind with Heaven. The devout Christian believes that all who venerate the Cross may hope for a happy eternity, without ever dreaming that the sign of his faith is as ancient as Homeric Troy, and was used by the Phoenicians probably before the Jews had any existence as a people; whilst an equally pious Mahometan regards the Crescent as the passport to the realms of bliss, without a thought that the symbol was in use long before the Prophet of Allah was born, and amongst those nations which it was the Prophet's mission to convert or to destroy. Letters and words mark the ordinary current of man's thought, whilst religious symbols show the nature of his aspirations. But all have this in common, viz., that they may be misunderstood. Many a Brahmin has uttered prayers in a language to him unintelligible; and many a Christian uses words in his devotions of which he never seeks to know the meaning. "Om manee pani" "Om manee padme houm," "Amen" and "Ave Maria purissima" may fairly be placed in the same category. In like manner, the signification of an emblem may be unknown. The antiquary finds in Lycian coins, and in Aztec ruins, figures for which he can frame no meaning; whilst the ordinary church-goer also sees, in his place of worship, designs of which none can give him a rational explanation. Again, we find that a language may find professed interpreters, whose system of exposition is wholly wrong; and the same may be said of symbols. I have seen, for example, three distinctly different interpretations given to one Assyrian inscription, and have heard as many opposite explanations of a particular figure, all of which have been incorrect.In the interpretation of unknown languages and symbols, the observer gladly allows that much may be wrong; but this does not prevent him believing that some may be right. In giving his judgment, he will examine as closely as he can into the system adopted by each inquirer, the amount of materials at his disposal, and, generally, the acumen which has been brought to the task. Perhaps, in an investigation such as we describe, the most important ingredient is care in collation and comparison. But a scholar can only collate satisfactorily when he has sufficient means, and these demand much time and research. The labour requires more time than ordinary working folk can command, and more patience than those who have leisure are generally disposed to give. Unquestionably, we have as yet had few attempts in England to classify and explain ancient and modern symbols. It is perhaps not strictly true that there has been so much a laxity in the research, of which we here speak, as a dread of making public the results of inquiry. Investigators, as a rule, have a respect for their own prejudices, and dislike to make known to others a knowledge which has brought pain to their own minds. Like the Brahmin of the story, they will destroy a fine microscope rather than permit their co-religionists to know that they drink living creatures in their water, or eat mites in their fruit. The motto of such people is, "If truth is disagreeable, cling to error."The following attempts to explain much of ancient and modern symbolism can only be regarded as tentative. The various devices contained herein seem to me to support the views which I have been led to form from other sources, by a careful inquiry into the signification of ancient names, and the examination of ancient faiths. The figures were originally intended as corroborative of evidence drawn from numerous ancient and modern writings; and the idea of collecting them, and, as it were, making them speak for themselves, has been an after-thought. In the following pages I have simply reprinted the figures, etc., which appear in Ancient Faiths embodied in Ancient Names (second edition). I make no attempt to exhaust the subject. There are hundreds of emblems which find herein no place; and there are explanations of symbols current to which I make no reference, for they are simply exoteric.For the benefit of many of my readers, I must explain the meaning of the last word italicised. In most, if not in all, forms of religion, there are tenets not generally imparted to the vulgar, and only given to a select few under the seal of secrecy. A similar reticence exists in common life. There are secrets kept from children, for example, that are commonly known to all parents; there are arcana, familiar to doctors, of which patients have no idea. For example, when a lad innocently asks the family surgeon, or his parent, where the last new baby came from, he is put off with a reply, wide of the mark, yet sufficient for him. When I put such a question to the maids in the kitchen, to which place for a time I was relegated, the first answer was that the baby came from the parsley bed. On hearing this, I went into the garden, and, finding the bed had been unmoved, came back and reproached my informant for falsehood. Another then took up the word, and said it was the carrot bed which the baby came from. As a roar of laughter followed this remark, I felt that I was being cheated, and asked no more questions. Then I could not, now I can, understand the esoteric sense of the sayings. They had to the servants two distinct significations. The only one which I could then comprehend was exoteric; that which was known to my elders was the esoteric meaning. In what is called "religion" there has been a similar distinction. We see this, not only in the "mysteries" of Greece and Rome, but amongst the Jews; Esdras stating the following as a command from God, "Some things shalt thou publish, and some things shalt thou show secretly to the wise" (2 Esdras xv. 26).When there exist two distinct explanations, or statements, about the signification of an emblem, the one "esoteric," true, and known only to the few, the other "exoteric," incorrect, and known to the many, it is clear that a time may come when the first may be lost, and the last alone remain. As an illustration, we can point to the original and correct pronunciation of the word [—Hebrew—], commonly pronounced Jehovah. Known only to a select few, it became lost when these died without imparting it; yet what is considered to be the incorrect method of pronouncing the word survives until to-day.** It is supposed by some that Jahveh is the proper     pronunciation of this word, but as the first letter may     represent, ja, ya, or e, and the third u, v, or o, whilst     the second and fourth are the soft h, one may read the word     Jhuh, analogous to the Ju in Jupiter; Jehu, the name of a     king of Israel; Tahu as it is read on Assyrian inscriptions;     Jeho, as in Jehoshaphat; Ehoh, analogous to the Evoe or Ewe     associated with Bacchus; and Jaho, analogous to the J. A. O.     of the Gnostics. The Greek "Fathers" give the word as if     equivalent to yave, yaoh, yeho, and too.But the question is not how the word may be pronounced, but how it was expressed in sound when used in religion by the Hebrew and other Semitic nations, amongst whom it was a sacred secret, or ineffable name, not lightly to be "taken in vain."———We may fairly assume that, when two such meanings exist, they are not identical, and that the one most commonly received is not the correct one. But when one alone is known to exist, it becomes a question whether another should be sought. If, it may be asked, the common people are contented with a fable, believing it true, why seek to enlighten them upon its hidden meaning? To show the bearing of this subject, let us notice what has always struck me as remarkable. The second commandment declares to the Jews, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them," etc. (Exod. xx. 4). Yet we find, in Numbers xxi., that Jehovah ordered Moses to frame a brazen serpent, whose power was so miraculous that those who only looked at it were cured of the evils inflicted by thanatoid snakes.Then again, in the temple of the God who is reported to have thus spoken, and who is also said to have declared that He would dwell in the house that Solomon made for Him, an ark, or box, was worshipped, and over it Cherubim were seen. These were likenesses of something, and the first was worshipped. We find it described as being so sacred that death once followed a profane touching of it (2 Sam. vi. 6, 7), and no fewer than 50,070 people were done to death at Bethshemesh because somebody had ventured to look inside the box, and had tried to search into the mystery contained therein (1 Sam. vi. 19). It is curious that the Philistines, who must have touched the box to put their strange offerings beside it (see 1 Sam. vi. 8), were not particularly bothered. They were "profane"; and priests only invent stories, which are applicable to the arcana which they use in worship, to blind the eyes of and give a holy horror to the people whom they govern. How David worshipped the ark as being the representative of God we see in 2 Sam. vi. 14, 16, 17, 21.The ark of the covenant was indeed regarded by the Jews much as a saint's toe-nail, a crucifix, an image of the Virgin, a bit of wood, or a rusty old nail is by the Roman Catholics. So flagrant an apparent breach of the second commandment was covered for the common Hebrews by the assertion that the mysterious box was a token of God's covenant with His people; but that this statement was "exoteric," we feel sure, when we find a similar ark existing and used in "the mysteries" of Egypt and Greece, amongst people who probably never heard of Jews, and could by no chance know what passed in the Hebrew temple.When become dissatisfied with a statement, which is evidently intended to be a blind, some individuals naturally endeavour to ascertain what is behind the curtain. In this they resemble the brave boy, who rushes upon a sheet and turnip lantern, which has imposed upon his companions and passed for a ghost. What is a bugbear to the many is often a contemptible reptile to the few. Yet there are a great number who would rather run from a phantom night after night than grapple with it once, and would dissuade others from being bold enough to encounter it. Nevertheless, even the former rejoice when the cheat is exposed.As when, by some courageous hand, that which has been mistaken by hundreds for a spectre has been demonstrated to be a crafty man, no one would endeavour to demonstrate the reality of ghosts by referring to the many scores of men of all ranks who had been duped by the apparition thus detected; so, in like manner, when the falsehood of an exoteric story is exhibited, it is no argument in its favour that the vulgar in thousands and many a wise man have believed it. Speaking metaphorically, we have many such ghosts amongst ourselves; phantoms, which pass for powerful giants, but are in reality perfect shams. Such we may describe by comparing them to the apocryphal vampires. It is to me a melancholy thing to contemplate the manner in which mankind have, in every age and nation, made for themselves bugbears, and then have felt fear at them. We deride the African, who manufactures a Fetish, and then trembles at its power, but the learned know perfectly well that men made the devil, whom the pious fear, just as a negro dreads Mumbo Jumbo.In the fictitious narratives which passed for truth in the dark ages of Christianity, there were accounts of individuals who died and were buried, and who, after a brief repose in the tomb, rose again. Some imagined that the resuscitated being was the identical one who had been interred. Others believed that some evil spirit had appropriated the body, and restored to it apparent vitality. Whatever the fiction was, the statement remained unchallenged, that some dead folk returned to earth, having the same guise as when they quitted it. We believe that a similar occurrence has taken place in religion. Heathendom died, and was buried; yet, after a brief interval, it rose again from its tomb. But, unlike the vampire, its garb was changed, and it was not recognised. It moved through Christendom in a seductive dress. If it were a devil, yet its clothing was that of a sheep; if a wolf, it wore broadcloth. If it ravened, the victims were not pitied. Heathenism, by which I mean the manners, morals and rites prevalent in pagan times or countries, like a resuscitated vampire, once bore rule throughout Christendom, in which term is included all those parts where Christian baptism is used by all the people, or the vast majority. In most parts it still reigns supreme.When vampires were discovered by the acumen of any observer, they were, we are told, ignominiously killed, by a stake being driven through the body; but experience showed them to have such tenacity of life that they rose again, and again, notwithstanding renewed impalement, and were not ultimately laid to rest till wholly burnt. In like manner, the regenerated Heathendom, which dominates over the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, has risen again and again, after being transfixed. Still cherished by the many, it is denounced by the few. Amongst other accusers, I raise my voice against the Paganism which exists so extensively in ecclesiastical Christianity, and will do my utmost to expose the imposture.In a vampire story, told in Thalaba, by Southey, the resuscitated being takes the form of a dearly beloved maiden, and the hero is obliged to kill her with his own hand. He does so; but, whilst he strikes the form of the loved one, he feels sure that he slays only a demon. In like manner, when I endeavour to destroy the current Heathenism, which has assumed the garb of Christianity, I do not attack real religion. Few would accuse a workman of malignancy who cleanses from filth the surface of a noble statue. There may be some who are too nice to touch a nasty subject; yet even they will rejoice when some one else removes the dirt. Such a scavenger is much wanted.If I were to assert, as a general proposition, that religion does not require any symbolism, I should probably win assent from every true Scotch Presbyterian, every Wesleyan, and every Independent. Yet I should be opposed by every Papist, and by most Anglican Churchmen. But why? Is it not because their ecclesiastics have adopted symbolism into their churches and into their ritual? They have broken the second commandment of Jehovah, and refuse to see anything wrong in their practice or gross in their imagery. But they adopt Jehovah rather than Elohim, and break the commandments, said to be given upon Sinai, in good company.The reader of the following pages will probably feel more interest therein if he has some clue whereby he may guide himself through their labyrinth.From the earliest known times there seems to have been in every civilised nation the idea of an unseen power. In the speculations of thoughtful minds a necessity is recognised for the existence of a Being who made all things—who is at times beneficent, sending rain and warmth, and who at others sends storm, plague, famine, and war. After the crude idea has taken possession of the thoughts, there has been a desire to know something more of this Creator, and an examination into the works of Nature has been made with the view to ascertain the will and designs of the Supreme. In every country this great One has been supposed to inhabit the heaven above us, and consequently all celestial phenomena have been noticed carefully. But the mind soon got weary of contemplating about an essence, and, contenting itself with the belief that there was a Power, began to investigate the nature of His ministers. These, amongst the Aryans, were the sun, fire, storm, wind, the sky, the day, night, etc. An intoxicating drink, too, was regarded as an emanation from the Supreme. With this form of belief men lived as they had done ere it existed, and in their relations with each other may be compared to such high class animals as elephants. Men can live peaceably together without religion, just as do the bisons, buffaloes, antelopes, and even wolves. The assumption that some form of faith is absolutely a necessity for man is only founded on the fancies of some religious fanatics who know little of the world.** Whilst these sheets were passing through the press, there     appeared a work, published anonymously, but reported to be     by one of the most esteemed theologians who ever sat upon an     episcopal bench. It is entitled Supernatural Religion.     London: Longmans, 1874. From it we quote the following, vol.     ii., p. 489:—     "We gain infinitely more than we lose in abandoning belief     in the reality of Divine Revelation. Whilst we retain pure     and unimpaired the treasure of Christian Morality, we     relinquish nothing but the debasing elements added to it by     human superstition. We are no longer bound to believe a     theology which outrages reason and moral sense. We are freed     from base anthropomorphic views of God and His government of     the universe; and from Jewish Mythology we rise to higher     conceptions of an infinitely wise and beneficent Being,     hidden from our finite minds, it is true, in the     impenetrable glory of Divinity, but whose Laws of wondrous     comprehensiveness and perfection we ever perceive in     operation around us. We are no longer disturbed by visions     of fitful interference with the order of Nature, but we     recognise that the Being who regulates the universe is     without variableness or shadow of turning. It is singular     how little there is in the supposed Revelation of alleged     information, however incredible, regarding that which is     beyond the limits of human thought, but that little is of a     character which reason declares to be the wildest delusion.     Let no man whose belief in the reality of a Divine     Revelation may be destroyed by such an inquiry complain that     he has lost a precious possession, and that nothing is left     but a blank. The Revelation not being a reality, that which     he has lost was but an illusion, and that which is left is     the Truth. If he be content with illusions, he will speedily     be consoled; if he be a lover only of truth, instead of a     blank, he will recognise that the reality before him is full     of great peace.     "If we know less than we have supposed of man's destiny, we     may at least rejoice that we are no longer compelled to     believe that which is unworthy. The limits of thought once     attained, we may well be unmoved in the assurance that all     that we do know of the regulation of the universe being so     perfect and wise, all that we do not know must be equally     so. Here enters the true and noble Faith—which is the child     of reason. If we have believed a system, the details of     which must at one time or another have shocked the mind of     every intelligent man, and believed it simply because it was     supposed to be revealed, we may equally believe in the     wisdom and goodness of what is not revealed. The mere act of     communication to us is nothing: Faith in the perfect     ordering of all things is independent of Revelation.     "The argument so often employed by Theologians that Divine     Revelation is necessary for man, and that certain views     contained in that Revelation are required by our moral     consciousness, is purely imaginary, and derived from the     Revelation which it seeks to maintain. The only thing     absolutely necessary for man is Truth and to that, and that     alone, must our moral consciousness adapt itself."