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ent, and took cognizance of the affairs of this world, their writers never urged the rewards of another life as inducements to virtue, or its punishments as furnishing motives to avoid crime. They inculcated a stoical resignation to the will of the gods, and reconciled themselves to death because mortals were thus released from the calamities of this world.
In the latter times of Greece and Rome, educated minds retained very little belief in the popular forms of theology. Philosophers had long risen above them to the contemplation of One Supreme Mind, and poets had long been accustomed to play with them as mere graceful fancies. Still the idea prevailed that fables were necessary for the populace. Strabo says: “It is impossible to govern a mob of women, or the whole mixed multitude, and to exhort them to piety, holiness, and faith, by philosophic reasoning. We must also employ superstition, with its fables and prodigies. The thunder, the ægis, the trident, the serpents, the torches, the thyrsi of the gods, are fables, bugbears to those who are children in understanding; as is all the ancient theology."
Cicero represents an Epicurean as saying: “It is marvellous how one of the Augurs can look another in the face without laughing."
Plutarch thus describes a philosopher of the same school: "He hypocritically enacts prayer and adoration, from fear of the enemy. He utters words directly opposite to his philosophy. While he is sacrificing, the ministering priest seems to him no more than a cook; and he departs, uttering the line of Menander: 'I have sacrificed to gods in whom I have no concern.'
Juvenal tells us that poets indulged their imagination to such a degree concerning future rewards and punishments, that even the Roman children ceased to believe them.
“ The silent realm of disembodied ghosts,
Pliny the Younger, in the opening of his Natural History, speaks of the immortality of the soul as an idle notion, a mere vision of human pride; equally absurd whether under the form of transmigration, or that of existence in another sphere.
The custom of deifying great men was carried to such an extent, that it became a regular custom for the Roman senate to decree divine honours to every emperor, after death, without reference to character. Vespasian, being ill, said jestingly: “I am a god, or at least not far from it." All the old forms were occasionally a theme for mirth or satire, except the Eleusinian Mysteries. Down to the latest period of their religion, Greek and Roman writers always approached that subject with the deepest reverence.
The declining oracles continued to be occasionally consulted till the fourth century of our era, when the Roman emperors became converts to Christianity. The oracles were soon after silenced, the order of Vestals abolished, the sacred fire extinguished, and most of the temples de stroyed.
Thus passed away from the face of our earth the beautiful pageantry of a religion which for more than two thousand years had expressed the aspirations of the human soul in its search after the infinite unknown. Its solemn train of priests and prophets disappeared; its voice of prayer and music no longer descended from the mountain tops, or rose in swelling chorus from processions winding through the valleys. But such truth as there was in it fell into the bosom of philosophy, and brought forth flowers, which still cast their seed into the future. Even its allegories linger in our literature, like the illustrious shadows in their own Elysian Fields. School-boys of every nation are familiar with the Grecian gods; Cupid rides on roses in our Valentines; Diana holds our lamps; the Italian peasant still swears by Bacchus; and the American poet of yesterday invokes the Muses.
THE CELTIC TRIBES.
Yet shall it claim our reverence, that to God
THERE was a country in Asia called Scythia, the boundaries of which are extremely uncertain. Tribes migrated thence, and gradually spread over a large portion of Europe. They bore a variety of names in different places; but those who settled in the countries now called Germany, France, Spain, and Great Britain, were known by the general appellation of the Celtic tribes.
The religious doctrines of the Celts were known only to the priests, who never allowed them to be committed to writing. Therefore we have only slight information concerning them, obtained from Romans who came in contact with those nations by conquest. Tacitus says the ancient Germans, called Teutones, believed in the existence of One Supreme Being, to whom all things were obedient. The whole universe was animated by this Divinity, portions of whom resided in all things. For this reason, they worshipped sun, moon, stars, earth, and water. They kept a sacred fire burning in their forests, and had a religious festival, during which they universally lighted great fires. Tacitus says: “They suppose Hertha, or Mother Earth, to interfere in the affairs of men, and visit different nations. In an island of the ocean stands a sacred and unviolated grove, in which is a consecrated chariot, covered with a veil, which the priest alone is permitted to touch. He
perceives when the goddess enters this secret recess; and with profound veneration he attends the vehicle, which is drawn by yoked cows. At this season all is joy. Every place which the goddess deigns to visit is a scene of festivity. No wars are undertaken; every hostile weapon is laid aside. Then only are peace and repose known, then only are they loved. After a time the same priest reconducts the goddess to her temple, satisfied with mortal intercourse. The chariot and its covering, and, if we may believe it, the goddess herself, then undergo ablution in a secret lake. This office is performed by slaves, whom the lake instantly swallows up. Hence proceeds a mysterious horror, and a holy ignorance of what that can be, which is beheld only by those who are about to perish.”
The ancient Germans worshipped a deity called Tuisco, or Teut, from whom they derived their name, Teutones. Their traditions affirmed that Tuisco produced mankind by marrying Hertha, or the Earth; which of course had an allegorical meaning concerning the union of Spirit and Matter. The image of a woman with a child in her arms was common in their consecrated forests, and was held peculiarly sacred. They had magnificent religious processions in honour of the sun, and greeted the New Moon and the Full Moon with torchlight processions.
They held the river Rhine in great veneration, and threw rich gifts, sometimes silver and gold, into rivers and lakes, as an offering to the deity presiding over waters. They believed in a multitude of Spirits, gliding about everywhere, and animating all things, great and small. Among these were the elves, some good and some evil. One of them delighted in producing the nightmare; others caused various diseases and inconveniences.
The Celtic priests were called Druids ; supposed to be derived from a word meaning an oak, because they wor. shipped in groves of oak. Greek and Roman writers believed them to have been a very ancient order, a branch of the Chaldean Magi, or Hindoo Bramins. It is recorded by several authors that they made their appearance in Europe, from eastern parts of the world, soon after the time of Abraham. Julius Cæsar, who was a close observer of the nations he conquered, says they believed in the immortality of the soul, and its transmigration into different bodies. Their austere lives, in the solitude of mighty forests, impressed even him with awe. They were a distinct hereditary caste, and elected their own chief, who retained his office during life. Their employments divided them into three classes. Bards, who chanted hymns to the gods, and sang the praises of heroes, to the accompaniment of the lyre; another class, who decided judicial questions, and attended to the education of youth; and a still higher order, who superintended religious ceremonies and magical rites. All things appertaining to worship were intrusted solely to them. They alone were exempted from taxes and military duty. They administered justice, and pronounced decrees of reward and punishment. The power of striking and binding criminals, and of inflicting the penalties they had decreed, was vested in them. No important enterprise was undertaken till the prophets among them had been consulted. In all cities they appointed the highest officers, who never ventured to do anything, without their advice. If any one refused to submit to their ordinances, they publicly excommunicated him from all share in sacrifices and worship, and declared him to be henceforth one of the profane. By this process, he was rendered incapable of holding any honourable office, and was deprived of the benefit of the laws in questions of property. Such persons were deemed so infamous, that their most intimate friends did not dare to talk with them, even at a distance, for fear of being infected with the terrible curse that rested upon them.
etimes the Druids pronounced solemn maledictions against a whole city or nation; and this was dreaded as a great public calamity. They studied the course of the stars, and predicted future events from their motions. Such knowledge as there was of medicine was confined to them. They had various magical rites for casting out Evil Spirits and imparting mysterious power to plants and minerals.