« PreviousContinue »
Babylon was obliged to offer her person for sale one day in the year, at the temple of this goddess, and give the money thus obtained to defray the expenses of her worship. In Syria, every woman was required to conform to the same custom, or in lieu thereof cut off all her hair as an offering to Astarte. We have no description of the religious festivals of the Chaldeans, but from the great wealth of Babylon, and the expense so lavishly bestowed on sacred edifices, we may reasonably infer that their religious anniversaries were observed with pompous processions and splendid pageantry. In autumn they had a barvest festival of five days, during which time masters everywhere exchanged places with their servants, one of whom presided over the household in royal robes. When Babylon was conquered by the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, the magnificent temple of Bel was robbed of its treasures in gold, silver and gems.
PERSIA, though ancient to us, was a modern nation compared with Hindostan, Egypt, or Chaldea. When Babylon was in its glory, Persia was inhabited by rude tribes, who had no place in history till the time of Cyrus the Great. It was originally called Iran, which means the Land of Light. Herodotus informs us that their religious ceremonies were conducted with great simplicity. They had neither temples nor altars, and considered it impious to make images of Divine Beings. They ascended mountains, and offered sacrifices, hymns, and prayers to the whole expanse of the Firmament; or rather to the Deity, the Centre and Source of Universal Light, whom they supposed to reside there. They likewise worshipped sun, moon, fire, air, earth, and water.
Concerning their great religious teacher Zerdusht, or Zoroaster, the most confused and contradictory accounts are given. Aristotle, Pliny, and others, fix his date five thousand years before the Trojan war, which would be more than six thousand years before the Christian era; and Plato mentions this as the most common opinion. Plutarch and others say he flourished only five hundred years before the Trojan war. The Persians themselves had a tradition that he came from some country to the east of them, and they believed him to have been more ancient than the date we assign to Moses. That he was a foreigner is indicated by a passage in the Zendavesta, which represents Ormuzd as saying to him, "Upl and go into the Land of Iran." The confusion in chronology has led some scholars to suggest that there might have been two celebrated sages, who bore the same name; one very ancient, and the other, who was the great reformer of the old religion of Persia, not dating much farther back than the time of Cyrus the Great, who lived five hundred and fiftynine years before Christ. The learned Heeren thinks it is satisfactorily proved by internal evidence from Zoroaster's own writings, that he lived at “a period anterior to the very commencement of the Median empire, ascending beyond the eighth century before the Christian era." He adds: “Whether we must refer him to a still more ancient epoch, must remain a question." One thing is certain; there was a man called Zoroaster, whom all Asiatic writers agree in representing as eminent for wisdom, particularly for knowledge of astronomy. The religion which bore his name is well known to have prevailed throughout Persia in the time of Socrates; and of the Sacred Books ascribed to him mutilated copies still remain.
Tradition reports that his mother had alarming dreams of Evil Spirits seeking to destroy the child to whom she was about to give birth. But a good Spirit came to rescue him, and said to her: "Fear nothing! Ormuzd will protect this infant. He has sent him as a prophet to the people. The world is waiting for him.” When he was born, wicked Spirits threw him into a flaming fire; but his mother found him sleeping sweetly there, as if it were a pleasant bath.
It is said that he lived twenty years in the wilderness, on cheese that never grew stale. Then he retired to a solitary mountain, and devoted himself to silent contemplation, in order to attain perfect holiness. One
day, fire from heaven descended visibly upon this mountain, and the king of Persia, attended by his court, approached to worship the sacred flame. Zoroaster came down through the fire unharmed, bringing with him Book of Laws, which he said had been revealed to him on the mountain, by Ormuzd himself. They called this the Zend-Avesta, which signifies the Living Word. They believed it to be a portion of the Primeval Word, by which creation was produced, and that every syllable it contained possessed an inherent virtue. When sacrifices were offered, it was not allowable to omit or transpose a single word. If priests should fail to perform the ritual, or to recite the prayers therein prescribed, they supposed the order of the universe would be disturbed, and all things fall into confusion. It was written in the Zend language, a dialect of the Sanscrit, the knowledge of which is supposed to have been confined to priests. After the promulgation of these holy laws, it is related that Zoroaster did not converse indiscriminately with all men, but only with those capable of understanding divine things. He held fire in his hand, and allowed melted lead to be poured into his bosom; but nothing could do him any harm. Concerning his death, they affirm that he invoked the Spirit of the constellation of Orion, praying to be consumed by celestial fire; and that he ascended to heaven on a thunderbolt. The tradition obviously implies that he died by lightning. The Persians considered him a divine messenger sent to redeem men from their evil ways, and they always worshipped his memory. To this day, his followers mention him with the greatest reverence; calling him "The Immortal Zoroaster," "The Blessed Zoroaster," " The Living Star.” Priests often precede their ceremonies with these words: “O Just Judge, there is but one Zoroaster; that is certain; that is beyond doubt. The law, excellent, right, and just, which Ormuzd has given to his people, is certainly, and without doubt, that which Zoroaster has brought."
He taught the existence of One Supreme Essence, invisible and incomprehensible, named Zeruâué Akeréné, which signifies Unlimited Time, or The Eternal. From him emanated Primeval Light; from which sprung Ormuzd, the King of Light. He was God of the Firmament, and the Principle of Goodness and of Truth. He was called “The Eternal Source of Sunshine and Light," "The Centre of all that exists, " " The First Born of the Eternal One,” “The Creator,” “The Sovereign Intelligence," "The All-Seeing,” “The Just Judge.” He was described as “sitting on the throne of the good and the perfect, in regions of pure light,” crowned with rays, and with a ring on his finger; a circle being the emblem of infinity; sometimes as a venerable, majestic man, seated on a Bull, their emblem of creation. He pronounced the Primeval Word, Enohe verihe! Be it! and his own abode of celestial light sprang into existence, as far removed from the sun, as the sun is from the earth. He then created six resplendent Spirits, masculine and feminine, called Amshaspands, The Immortal Holy Ones, of whom himself was the seventh and highest. These deities of benevolence and wisdom surround the throne of Ormuzd, and convey to him the prayers of inferior spirits, and of men, for whom they are models of purity and perfection. The next series of creation were twenty-eight gentle and kindly Spirits, masculine and feminine, called Izeds, the chief of whom was the radiant Mithras. They presided over sun, moon, and stars, showered beneficent gifts upon the earth, endeavoured to protect it from evil influences, and served as messengers between men and the Superior Spirits. The third order of Spirits, called Fervers, were infinitely more numerous; for they were the ideas, which Ormuzd conceived, before he proceeded to the creation of the world. Hence they were the archetypes of every thing that existed, the vivifying principles which animated all things in the universe, and the guardians of stars, men, animals, plants, and all other created things. Every mortal had one of these Spirits by his side through life, to protect him from evil. Even Ormuzd himself was supposed to have his attendant Ferver.
Khor, the Sun, was called “The Eye of Ormuzd." He is described as riding in a chariot with four horses, and finishing his course round the earth in three hundred and sixty-five days. A trumpet always sounded from the royal pavilion at the moment the sun rose; and over the entrance was a brilliant image of the sun, enclosed in crystal. Mithras, described as “the Spirit, or Ferver, who attends the Sun in his course," was an object of almost universal worship throughout Persia. He was at first always invoked with the Sun, and in later times they were confounded together. He was called, " The most exalted of the Izeds, the never-sleeping, the protector of the land." He is described as having a thousand ears, and ten thousand eyes. He was not merely the Spirit of Light, but also of Intelligence. Prayers were often addressed to him as “The Mediator,” because he was supposed to mediate between the conflicting powers of good and evil. Like Osiris of Egypt, he was the god of fertility and beneficence; like him, he was described with the orb of the sun on his head, and a circle with wings was his symbol. Mithra, a feminine Ized, was his companion.
The universe was intrusted to a chain of spiritual agencies, ascending from the smallest terrestrial thing up to the throne of the Eternal One. Minerals, plants, insects, birds, quadrupeds, fire, air, earth, and water, had each a presiding Spirit. Twelve genii of the zodiac ruled over the months, and thirty subordinate ones over each day of the month. All the heavenly luminaries were animated with Souls, of higher and higher intelligence, and more and more ethereal forms. Everything in the orbs over which they presided partook of their character and state, whether more or less excellent. “Stars with tails” (comets) were under the care of sun, moon, and fixed stars, who kept them within prescribed limits. Sirius, or the Dog Star, so sacred in Egypt as the Star of Isis, was appointed to guide all the others. A Persian poet says: "God conferred sovereignty on the Sun, and squadrons of Stars were his army."
The Spirits of the Stars were benevolent guardians of men, and of all inferior creatures. They were endowed