Page images
PDF
EPUB

to complete union with the Supreme Soul. Shoots taken from it were said to send forth roots instantly, and to confirm the faith of the doubtful by ascending into the air, and floating among the clouds, surrounded by a brilliant halo.

Buddhism was introduced into Japan five or six hundred years after Christ. The Japan Encyclopedia enumerates thirty-three ancient patriarchs, or leaders of this religion, the first of whom received the doctrines and writings from Bouddha himself. These men devoted themselves to fasting, prayer, and constant meditation. Several of them burned themselves to death, that the soul might be released from imprisonment in the body, and through the intense purification of fire pass into a happier state of existence. Pictures and images of these patriarchs abound in the temples, and are held in religious veneration.

It is said that eighty thousand followers of Bouddha went forth from Hindostan, as missionaries to other lands; and the traditions of various countries are full of legends concerning their benevolence, holiness, and miraculous power. His religion has never been propagated by the sword. It has been effected entirely by the influence of peaceable and persevering devotees. It now prevails in China, Japan, Thibet, Siam, the Birman Empire, Ceylon, and a large portion of Tartary. The era of the Siamese is the death of Bouddha. In Ceylon, they date from the introduction of his religion into their island. It is supposed to be more extensively adopted than any religion that ever existed. Its votaries are computed at four hundred millions; more than one-third of the whole human race.

Pilgrims from all these countries visit Benares, and other holy cities of India, which they all revere as the fountainhead of their Religion. They speak of it as "The King. dom of Virtues," "The Exceeding Pure Region,” “The Sacred Land.”

CHALDEA AND PERSIA.

"Chaldean shepherds, ranging trackless fields,

Looked on the Polar Star, as on a guide
And guardian of their course, that never elosed
His steadfast ege. The Planetary Five
With a submissive reverence they bebeld;
Watehed from the centre of their sleeping fiets
Those radiant Mereuries that seemed to move,
Carrying through ether, in perpetual round,
Decrees and resolutions of the Gods ;
And, by their aspects, signifying works
Of dim futurity, to man revealed."

“The Persian, zealous to reject
Altar and image, and the inclusive walls
And roofs of temples built by human hands,
Presented sacrifice to Moon and Stars,
And the whole Circle of the Heavens; for him
A sensitive Existence and a God." WORDSWORTE.

EGYPTIANS affirmed that Chaldea was settled by a colony from their country; but many learned men believe that Egypt was younger than Chaldea, and settled by emigrants from thence. It is a matter of mere conjecture, for Chaldean literature is all destroyed, and their famous capital, Babylon, being mostly built of bricks and bitumen, has left no vestiges by which to reckon historical dates. When Alexander the Great conquered the city, Chaldean priests boasted to the Greek philosophers, who followed his army, that they had continued their astronomical calculations through a period of more than forty thousand years. The earliest records actually found by the Greeks extended back two thousand two hundred and thirty-four years before the Christian era; only one hundred and fourteen years after our commonly received epoch of the Flood. The great antiquity of Chaldea cannot be doubted, and its intimate connection with Hindostan, or Egypt, is abundantly proved by the little that is known concerning its religion, and by the few fragments that remain of its former grandeur. The ruins of Nineveh have lately been excavated, after having lain concealed from the eye of man for two thousand five hundred years. Obelisks, and gigantic sphinxes have thus been brought to light, and images of the sacred bull

, often represented winged and with a human head. The sun, moon, and trident of Siva were found over the entrances of temples, the same as in Hindostan. Hieroglyphics were cut on the monuments, and the sculptures were painted blue, red, and yellow, the brightness of which faded when exposed to the air, after their long interment. The triangular harp of Egypt is represented, and so is the Tree of Life, which both in Egypt and Hindostan was believed to confer immortality on those who ate of its fruit. The attitude of adoration, standing with uplifted hands, is the same as in Egypt. Deities are represented with the heads of birds, and carry lotus-blossoms in their hands, or rings to represent completed cycles. The bull, the ram, the lion, the goat, the seven planets, and other astronomical emblems, occur everywhere. One of their deities is represented with four wings, each terminating in a star. An orb with wings is conspicuous among their sacred emblems, and strongly resembles the winged globe of the Egyptians, the symbol of Osiris. Diodorus, the historian, says Chaldeans called the planets by the very same names which Greeks used to designate them, and Greeks borrowed their names from the Egyptians. The sexual emblem, so common in Egypt and Hindostan, has not been found on the ruins of Nineveh.

Chaldeans believed in One Supreme Being, and a mul. titude of subordinate deities emanating from him, in successive gradations. Spirits that were nearer the Divine Source were clothed with more ethereal forms than those more remote. The human soul was a portion of God, and originally had wings, which having perished, must

VOL. I.-22

be reproduced before it could return to its source. The stars were Spirits, and had an influence, beneficent or malignant, on the affairs of the world; and wise men, by observing certain rules, could discover the secrets they revealed. They believed the world was created in six successive periods, and was alternately destroyed and renewed in the course of revolving ages. Whenever all the planets met in the sign of Capricorn the whole earth was overwhelmed with a deluge of water, and whenever they all met in Cancer it was consumed by fire.

There was a powerful order of priests, who conducted the ceremonies of religion, explained the laws, practised medicine, interpreted dreams, and averted evils by magical rites. A class of them were set apart on purpose to observe the heavenly bodies and keep record of their changes. The chief use made of this knowledge was to foretell weather and predict future events. These prophets became so celebrated that for many centuries all astrologers were known by the general name of Chaldeans. They were believed to be acquainted with spells that could command Spirits, and induce them to reveal supernatural virtues existing in herbs and stones. These laws of magic were deemed so important that the kings of Chaldea and Persia were instructed therein as a valuable instrument of govern

It was supposed that the forces of an enemy might be routed, and a whole army struck with sudden panic, by the due performance of prescribed ceremonies and invocations. The priests had secret doctrines and religious mysteries, which they transmitted from father to son, and carefully veiled from the populace, who worshipped sun, moon, and stars, not as emblems, but as real deities.

The idea that heavenly luminaries were inhabited by Spirits, of a nature intermediate between God and men, first led mortals to address prayers to the orbs over which they were supposed to preside. In order to supplicate these deities, when sun, moon, and stars were not visible, they made images of them, which the priests consecrated with many ceremonies. Then they pronounced solemn invocations to draw down the Spirits into the statues provided for their reception. By this process it was supposed that a mysterious connection was established between the Spirit and the image, so that prayers addressed to one were thenceforth heard by the other. This was probably the origin of image worship everywhere.

The highest deity among the Chaldeans was called Bel, or Baal, which signifies Lord, or Prince, of the Heavenly Luminaries. The symbol sacred to him was a circle with wings, probably to represent the disc of the Sun and the Spirit presiding over that resplendent orb. Some have supposed that Belus, a beneficent ruler, who improved agriculture, united rivers by canals, and fortified Babylon with walls, was believed to be an avatar, or incarnation of this deity, and therefore received his name. Animals were sacrificed to Bel, and probably human beings also. Queen Semiramis erected a temple for his worship at Babylon, which on account of its great height was used to observe the stars. Herodotus says it was ascended by steps on the outside, from the ground to the highest point of the tower. At the top was a chapel, containing a table of solid gold, and a couch magnificently adorned, where Bel was said to sleep. A priestess resided there, whom the priests affirmed to have been selected by the god himself to attend upon him, because she was more beautiful than any other woman in the nation. This famous temple is reported to have contained three golden statues. One of Bel, forty feet high; another of a goddess supposed to have been a symbol of Nature, recipient and preserver of the lifegiving principle of the world. She sat in a golden chair, with two lions by her side, and two huge silver serpents at her feet. Another goddess represented the planet which we call Venus, and was supposed to preside over generation. Her forehead was surmounted by a star, she held in her right hand a serpent, in her left, a sceptre adorned with gems. Syrians worshipped her under the name of Astarte, and it is supposed she is alluded to in Hebrew Scriptures as “The Queen of Heaven.” It is said every woman in

« PreviousContinue »