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1. EGYPT.--Of all the nations of antiquity, none was so infamous for idolatry, as Egypt. She was the alma mater of every superstition; conveying, with her colonists, wherever they were settled, some corruption of the truth, which, under the fostering care of her established priesthood, assumed a form of consistency and allurement. Among the rest, the worship of the serpent was in her early history an important and conspicuous part of her idolatry. The serpent entered into the Egyptian religion under all his characters, of AN EMBLEM OF DIVINITY, A CHARM, AN ORACLE, and A GOD.
1. As an emblem of divinity, the sacred serpent was particularly symbolical of the gods CNEPH and THOTH, and of the goddess ISIS: though he entered, more or less, into the symbolical worship of all the gods.
HARPOCRATES, a very ancient god of the Egyptians, was symbolized by the serpent. He is generally represented with his left hand on a staff, surmounted by a cornucopia: round the staff is twined a serpent 1. He is the god of silence; to denote which the forefinger of the right hand is on his mouth. He is supposed by some to be the same as HORUS.
CNEPH was considered by the Egyptian priests as "the architect of the universe," and was adored as "the good dæmon." He was sometimes represented as A SERPENT WITH AN EGG IN HIS MOUTH. The egg denoted the mundane elements as proceeding from him. The serpent in a circle, passing diametrically and horizontally from circumference to circumference, was his hieroglyphical emblem. This became the ninth letter of the Egyptian alphabet, and was called Thita 2; from which the Greeks borrowed both the form and name of their Theta. The name of this letter was derived from that of its inventor THOTH, the reformer of the religion and manners of Egypt, and the supposed author
of the hieroglyphic system. He is said by Sanchoniathon to have introduced ophiolatreia; and was, as we observed in a former part of this volume, most probably the founder of the first colonies after the flood which were established in Phœnicia and Egypt. He taught the Egyptians (or rather that part of his colony which was settled in Egypt) a religion, which partaking of Zabaism and Ophiolatreia, had some mixture also of primeval truth. The divine Spirit he denominated CNEPH, and described him as "the original, eternal Spirit, pervading all creation 1," whose symbol was a SERPENT.
For his many services to the people, in teaching them letters, hieroglyphics, astronomy, and morals, TAAUTUS or THOTH was deified after death as "the god of health," or of "healing," and became the prototype of the god ÆSCULAPIUS 2. He was also identified with HERMES or MERCURY.
As "the god of healing," THOTH was himself symbolized by the serpent, which he had taught the Egyptians to consider as a general emblem of divinity. The seventh letter of the
[paragraph continues] Egyptian alphabet, called zeuta, or "life," was sacred to him 1, and expressed by a serpent standing upon his tail. Hence the name and the form of the corresponding letter in the Grecian alphabet, Ζ ζ.
THOTH, as the god of healing, is represented leaning upon a knotted stick, which is enfolded by a serpent: and a female deity, corresponding with the Grecian goddess Hygeia, is encircled by a serpent who drinks out of a chalice in her hand 2.
The serpent was also symbolical of Isis, and formed a conspicuous feature in her mysteries. The Isiac table 3, which describes these mysteries, is charged with serpents in every part, as emblems of the goddess.
The species of serpent peculiarly dedicated to Isis was the asp. This is seen on the heads of her statues, and on the bonnets and sashes of her
priests. The tiara of the kings of Egypt was ornamented with the figures of the same reptile. "When the Egyptians wished to represent Isis as an angry avenger of crimes, they placed an asp on her head, which was designated by the peculiar name of Thermuthis, i.e. deadly 1." We learn also from Ælian 2: "The asp, to which the Egyptians gave the name of Thermuthis, they say is sacred, and worship it there; and they crown the images of Isis with it, as with a royal diadem." There is a fragment in the Elgin collection of marbles in the British Museum, which appears to be a leonine head of Isis, crowned with a coronet of asps. Ovid, (Met. ix. 690, &c.) describing the dream of Telethusa, the mother of Iphis, represents Isis as appearing with her constant companion the serpent; which he thus characterizes:--
"Plena que somniferi serpens peregrina veneni."
[paragraph continues] A character which answers to that of the Thermuthis. The same poet again mentions the asp of Isis, when he imprecates that goddess in the following words:--
Per tua sistra precor, per Anubidis ora verendi,
(Sic tua sacra pies semper Osiris amet,
PIGRAQUE LABATUR CIRCA DONARIA SERPENS 1--)
From which we may infer that LIVING ASPS were kept in the temples of Isis, and employed, perhaps, to glide about the offerings, to sanctify them. This will throw a light on the practice of the Syrian ophites mentioned in the pre-ceding chapter; namely, the hallowing of the Eucharist by the gliding of the sacred serpent about the bread. This custom obtained also, as we shall observe in the sequel, among the Britons and Scandinavians in their most solemn mysteries.
The asp of Isis was not a reptile of Egyptian production. Ovid, we may remark, describes her as accompanied by a "peregrina Serpens," a foreign serpent; and all the representations of the asp describe it as having a large expanded head, unlike any snake which has ever been found in Egypt. It was probably the hooded serpent of India, which is invariably the sacred snake of that country. But how it became an emblem of divinity in Egypt it is not easy to prove; for the native two-horned snake of the
temple of Jupiter at Thebes, was also held in great reverence. It is possible that the worship of Isis may find its prototype in the adoration of the Indian ISI. The sacred asp of the hieroglyphics, is different from the common asp of Egypt, which was merely a viper.
The serpent, however, was not confined to Cneph, Thoth and Isis, though more peculiarly consecrated to their worship. There is scarcely an Egyptian deity which is not occasionally symbolized by it. Several of these deities are represented with their proper heads terminating in serpents' bodies. In Montfaucon, vol. 2, plate 207, there is an engraving of SERAPIS, with a human head and serpentine tail. Two other minor gods are also represented, the one by a serpent with a bull's head, the other by a serpent with the radiated head of the lion. The second of these, which Montfaucon supposes to be an image of APIS, is bored through the middle: "probably," remarks that learned antiquary, "with a design to hang about the neck, as they did many other small figures of Gods, by way of ornaments or charms."
The figure of Serapis, encircled by serpents, is found on tombs. The appearance of serpents
on tombs was very general. On an urn of Egnatius Nicephoras, and of Herbasia Clymene, engraved in Montfaucon, vol. 5, a young man entwined by a serpent is described as falling headlong to the ground. In the urn of Herbasia Clymene the corners are ornamented with figures of serpents. It is a singular coincidence that the creature by whom came DEATH into the world should be consecrated by the earliest heathen idolaters to the receptacles of the dead. It is remarkable also, that SERAPIS was supposed by the Egyptians "to have dominion over evil dæmons 1," or in other words, was the same as PLUTO or SATAN.
As an emblem of dedication to the service or honour of THE DEITY, the serpent was sculptured with a GLOBE and WINGS on the porticoes of most of the Egyptian temples, and on the summits of some of the obelisks. The temples of LUXORE, ESNAY, KOMOMBU, DENDARA, and APOLLINOPOLIS, are surmounted by this favourite symbol of consecration 2; and it appears on the top of each compartment of the Pamphylian
obelisk 1. Two serpents, without the wings and globe, are sculptured on each of the capitals of the pillars in the temple of GAVA, as delineated by Pococke 2. On the Pamphylian obelisk the hieroglyphic serpent appears in all his forms, with and without the globe or wings, fifty-two times; and is seen also on others.
The great consideration in which the symbolical serpent was held by the Egyptians, appears in the variations under which he is found on monumental remains. The reason of these has been assigned by authors who have undertaken to investigate the nature and object of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The serpent was deemed symbolical of the divine wisdom, power, and creative energy 3; of immortality and regeneration, from the shedding of his skin; and of eternity, when represented in the act of biting his own tail. Besides these various symbolizations, we are informed that the Egyptians represented the world by a circle, intersected by two diameters perpendicular to each other 4. These diameters were serpents, as we may
gather from Eusebius 1, who tells us that "the world was described by a circle and "a serpent passing diametrically horizontally through it." The circle represented the terrestrial globe, and the intersecting serpents the solstitial colures. This emblem was more common than that mentioned by Eusebius 2. Jablonski seems to think that the circumference only was a serpent, and the diameters right lines; but the passage above referred to in Eusebius corrects him.
The learned Kircher has also instructed us that the several elements were likewise represented by serpents in various positions. Thus when they desired to depict the element of EARTH, "which was animated by the igneous power of OPH, (the genius who governed all things, and was symbolized by the serpent,) they drew a prostrate two-horned snake." When they wished to denote the element of WATER, they described a serpent moving in an undulated manner. The AIR was represented by an erect serpent in the act of hissing; this was the figure which formed the letter zeuta. The element of FIRE they denoted by an asp standing on his tail, and bearing upon his head a globe:
while "the igneous quality"--the "auraï simplicis ignis"--the divine principle of animation which pervades all things--they represented by a circle with a snake horizontally bisecting it. This is the letter thita; and the emblem described by Eusebius as the "character mundi."
From which hieroglyphics it is clear that THE SERPENT was the most expressive symbol of divinity with the Egyptians. The last figure, the emblem of the "Vis ignea," was peculiarly the hieroglyphic of the god CNEPH, the Agathodæmon and Demiurge of Egyptian mythology, the chief god of their original worship.
The extent to which the veneration of the symbolical serpent prevailed in Egypt, is illustrated by a very curious plate of gold discovered at Malta, in the year 1694, in the old wall of the city, where it is supposed to have been concealed by its former possessor in the days of religious fervour, when every thing idolatrous was consumed as abominable. This interesting relic is engraved in Montfaucon, vol. ii. p. 207, and thus described: "This plate was rolled up in a golden casket; it consists of two long rows, which contain a very great number of Egyptian deities, most of which have the head
of some beast or bird. Many serpents are also seen intermixed, the arms and legs of the gods terminating in serpents' tails. The first figure has upon its back a long shell, with a serpent upon it: in each row there is a serpent extended upon an altar. Among the figures of the second row there is seen an Isis, of tolerably good form. This same plate, no doubt, contains the most profound mysteries of the Egyptian superstition." It is a representation, probably, of the mysteries of Isis.
Among the curiosities of Egyptian idolatry were the VOTIVE HANDS and FEET, sometimes found in temples. They were offered up in the same manner as the church of Rome consecrates waxen images of hands and feet, &c. commemorative of preservations--a custom derived, doubtless, from Pagans, as are most of the religious ceremonies of the Romish church. These VOTIVE HANDS 1 or FEET are charged with figures of serpents, emblematic of recovered health.
The basilisk or royal serpent, so called as being the most venomous of the species, and, as
it were, a king of snakes, was named OB or OUB 1. This, as we observed before, was the name of the oracular god of Canaan, identical with the Python of Delphi. The Egyptians represented this serpent upon their coins, darting rays from his head, as if adorned with a crown. Round the coin was inscribed "AGATHODÆMON." The Roman Emperor Nero, in the madness of his vanity, caused several such coins to be struck with the inscription, "THE NEW AGATHODÆMON"--meaning himself 2. There was a similar medal struck by the Egyptian gnostics, on which the word "CNUPHIS" was stamped. By this the idolatrous heretics intended to signify JESUS CHRIST 3.
The Egyptian gnostics of the school of Basilides were much addicted to magic; and among their amulets had certain gems called Abraxas. This was the name which they gave to the Almighty, because, said they, "the letters forming the word 'Abraxas,' in Greek numeration, would make up the number three hundred and sixty-five; that is, the number of the days in one revolution of the sun, as the word
[paragraph continues] Mithras, or Meithras, also contains them." The name of the deity they transferred to gems, on which his mysteries or symbols were inscribed. Most of these gems had the figure of a SERPENT upon them, either by himself, or terminating the legs of a god with a cock's head. The leonine serpent, with a circle of rays about his head, was commonly engraved upon them. The inscriptions frequently alluded to the Jewish or Christian religions in the words "Iao Sabaoth," "Adonai," &c. which formed them. A serpent biting his own tail, to represent eternity, was often seen on those gems 1.
These Abraxas, in which Egyptian idolatry and Christian revelation were so inextricably interwoven, are existing proofs of the prevalence of ophiolatreia in the first ages of the church.
The Egyptians held basilisks in such veneration, that they made images of them in gold, and consecrated and placed them in the temples of their gods 2. Bryant thinks that they were the same as the Thermuthis, or deadly
asp. These creatures the Egyptian priests are said to have preserved by digging holes for them in the corners of their temples 1; and it was a part of their superstition to believe that whoever was accidentally bitten by them was divinely favoured 1.
The serpent is sometimes found sculptured, and attached to the breasts of mummies; but whether with a view to talismanic security, or as indicative of the priesthood of ISIS, is doubtful. A female mummy, opened by M. Passalacqua at Paris a few years ago, was adorned with a necklace of serpents carved in stone. The small figure of the bull-headed serpent, mentioned above, may have been intended for a similar purpose. Bracelets, in the form of serpents, were worn by the Grecian women in the time of Clemens Alexandrinus, who thus reproves the fashion: "The women are not ashamed to place about them the most manifest symbols of the evil one; for as the serpent deceived Eve, so the golden trinket in the fashion of a serpent misleads
the women 1." The children also wore chaplets of the same kind 2.
Between Egypt and Greece there was always a great intercourse; and many of the customs, and most of the mythology of the latter, were derived from the former. It is not improbable, therefore, that these serpentine trinkets were worn also in Egypt; but whether as merely ornamental, or as talismanic, or as indicative of the priesthood of Cneph or Isis, I will not venture to decide.
2. But a very striking example of the talismanic serpent may be seen in the celebrated CADUCEUS, which was usually, though not exclusively, attributed to Hermes or Mercury. It did not exclusively belong to that god, for we may find it in the hand of Cybele, "the Syrian goddess," the mother of the gods 3. Cybele is the same as OPS, in whose history the serpent makes a prominent feature. We find it again,
held by Minerva 1; and again, by the Egyptian Anubis 2. It is seen in the hands of Hercules Ogmius, the god of the Celts; and of the personified constellation Virgo, who is said by Lucian 3 to have had her symbol in the Pythian priestess; from which we may infer that the Caduceus was a sacred badge at Delphi.
The CADUCEUS was represented under various forms, according to the fancy of the sculptor, but almost always preserved the original design of a winged wand entwined by two serpents. Sometimes it was described without the wings, but never, properly, without the serpents: the variations consisted chiefly in the number of the folds made by the serpents' bodies round the wand, and the relative positions of the wings, and serpents' heads. The CADUCEUS was deemed powerful in paralyzing the mind, and raising the dead. This talismanic character was probably inherent in the serpents, rather than in any other part of the Caduceus; for though frequently exhibited without the wings, it is rarely, if ever, seen without the serpents. The
notion of the charm was probably derived from an obscure traditionary memorial of the fascination of the paradisiacal serpent. The fascination of the serpent's eye was universally believed by the ancients, insomuch that "a serpent's eye" became a proverb among the Greeks and Romans to denote peculiar acuteness and intentness of mind 1.
The origin of the Caduceus has been elaborately developed by the learned Kircher, in his dissertation on the Pamphylian obelisk 2. From him we learn that the Caduceus was originally expressed by the simple figure of a cross, by which its inventor, Thoth, is said to have symbolized the four elements proceeding from a common centre. This symbol, after undergoing some alterations, was used as a letter of the Egyptian alphabet, and called, from its inventor, Taut. It was the corresponding letter to the Hebrew Tau, though different in shape. It corresponded with it also in its mystic signification.
The next form assumed by this remarkable symbol was : the figure of the sun being superadded, as if to denote that the sun was
the great author of action to the mundane elements. By this figure was symbolized the deity of fecundity and generation; and hence it became, subsequently, a symbol of the planet VENUS. Jablonski thinks that it was nothing more nor less than the infamous Phallus; but the authority of Kircher must be allowed respect.
The moon being also united with the sun, in the opinion of the Egyptians, as a parent of life and heat and vegetation, the lunar emblem was added to the solar. The sun and moon, as the father and mother of the universe, contributed, therefore, their conjoint character to the Taautic symbol, which in its new form was described thus . This was the complete figure which represented the supreme deity. It was called by the Egyptians the TAAUTIC EMBLEM; and when Thoth was elevated into the rank of a god, by the name of Hermes or Mercury, it became his hieroglyphic. Hence it was employed as a symbol of the planet MERCURY; for in early mythology every deified hero was changed into a planet or constellation. The SUN, being the great object of primeval idolatry, was worshipped with the highest honours; and THOTH, being the great prophet and reformer of the
[paragraph continues] Egyptian religion, to him they gave the post of honour next to the sun. Hence the planet which revolves nearest to the sun was called Hermes, or Mercury, and regarded as the celestial mansion of the deified Thoth 1.
Thoth first taught the Egyptians to symbolize divinity by serpents; hence the two chief objects of Egyptian idolatry, the SUN and the MOON, were represented by two serpents, male and female. Later philosophers, therefore, not deeming the Taautic emblem sufficiently explicit of its own meaning, substituted for the lunar crescent and the solar circle, TWO SERPENTS, the representatives of these deities, each of which was most ingeniously described by the intersecting of the two serpents, so as to form a circle below, and a crescent above, with their bodies. The arms of the cross they changed in like manner into WINGS, which were emblematical of the hovering of the divine spirit
over the mundane elements. The mundane elements were consequently reduced to be represented by the shaft of the cross.
This improved form of the
Taautic emblem, and the first form of the CADUCEUS, was thus depicted. In this form it is seen in the hand of ANUBIS, in the plate engraved of him in Herwart's Hieroglyphic Theatre, from which it is copied by Kircher. After this, the CADUCEUS underwent many variations. The serpents were made to entwine about the shaft, and the wings were placed above the serpents. The intersections of the serpents, also, became more frequent, sometimes amounting to three or four; and gave rise to the fable of Jupiter and Rhea, to which the supposed conjugal union of the sun and moon (represented by these serpents) gave some colour. Sometimes the point of intersection was a knot, which was called "the knot of Hercules 1."
But notwithstanding all these variations, the original idea was never lost. The symbol was
always in the hand of Mercury, though occasionally it adorned the statues and medals of other deities; and it was always a talisman of extraordinary power. For this talismanic character two causes may be assigned: the one, inherent in the SERPENTS, from a traditionary recollection of the "subtilty" of the creature who seduced our first mother; the other, residing in the simple CROSS, the basis of the Taautic emblem. So much may be said in favour of the latter opinion, and so great is the probability in favour of the former, that we cannot err in combining the two causes to complete the talisman.
Kircher supposes that Thoth received the emblem upon which he founded the crux ansata from the patriarchs (before the flood, I presume,) by tradition. Of this there can be no proof. Certain it is, however, that by the descendents of the patriarchs after the flood, the figure of a CROSS was ever esteemed a most sacred sign, whatever may have been its origin or mystery. It occurs, according to Maurice, among the hieroglyphics of the Brahmins, and is stamped upon the most magnificent shrines of their deities. On the Egyptian obelisks the Taautic
emblem was of common occurrence, and has been found on monuments among the ruins of Axum in Abyssinia 1. It is the same figure which has been called "the Key of the Nile."
Much curious learning has been employed upon the origin of this celebrated character. The Hebrew ת is supposed to have been derived from it, though it has lost the figure of the original sign which is more accurately preserved in the Greek Τ; and still more so, in the Coptic dau.
It is supposed that an allusion is made to this mysterious sign in Ezekiel ix. 4, where God directs "the man clothed in linen, which had the writing inkhorn by his side," to set "A MARK" upon the foreheads of those who lamented the prevalence of idolatry in Jerusalem. In the original the phrase is, "set a TAU (ת) upon their foreheads." The vulgate preserves the real meaning of the command,--"mark with the LETTER TAU the foreheads," &c. Upon which Lowth observes, that in the parallel passage in the Septuagint, το Σημειον (a mark) should be TAU Σημειον (the mark TAU.) It has been finally determined by the learned, that in
the Samaritan character (in which Ezekiel wrote,) the ת was formerly cruciform, in the shape of our T, or the Coptic dau: from whence it would appear that the sign T was a very sacred sign in the days of Ezekiel; an hieroglyphic denoting the property of the deity.
Count De Gebelin, cited by Maurice, (Hist. Hindost.) observes that the Greeks, adding to the word THAU the particle MA, (which in Sanscrit means "grand,") formed the word THAUMA (Θαυμα), a sign or prodigy. And he further remarks, that in France, during the early ages of Christianity, the officiating priest who performed the ceremony of baptism, used the expression "CRUCIS THAUMATE notare."
It is probable that the early Christians, perceiving how aptly this ancient symbol of dedication to the deity might be used to signify the dedication of the convert to CHRIST, employed it in baptism without any fear of scandal, as it symbolized likewise the cross upon which the SAVIOUR died.
There seems to be an allusion to this ancient custom of setting the THAU upon the foreheads of the servants of God, in that saying of our
[paragraph continues] Lord, "If any man will come after me, let him take up his CROSS and follow me 1".
I grant that this might have been figuratively spoken, in reference to the perils which the disciple would undergo: but does it mean nothing more? I cannot but think that it does; for the subsequent verses represent a picture not much dissimilar to that in the 9th chapter of Ezekiel, where the expression "thau" first occurs. Our Lord goes on to say, "For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it . . . . For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works." Now, comparing this passage with the 9th chapter of Ezekiel, we shall find that the abstract ideas are the same,--namely, a divine visitation and judgment, in which the righteous are to be spared in the destruction of the wicked. Whoever among the inhabitants of the polluted city should be found by the destroying angel with the THAU (the cross) upon his forehead, would be spared; whoever among the millions of the departed souls shall be found at the second coming of the
[paragraph continues] Lord in judgment, with his mark upon them, will be saved; whoever shall have earnestly taken up the CROSS OF CHRIST, will inherit eternal glory.
St. Paul also alludes to the same acknowledged sign of consecration to the Deity, when he says, "Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear in my body THE MARKS of the LORD JESUS 1."
It is the custom of the Brahmins, to this day, to set a mark on the foreheads of the votaries of Veshnu and Seeva; and the Oriental Christians were accustomed to mark CRUCIFIXES on their arms and other parts of the body. The phylacteries of the Hebrews are also well known. The Mahometans, again, write the word "ALLAH" (God) upon their persons 2. All of which customs may be traced to one common origin, which I conceive to be of the most remote antiquity. The first mention of a MARK is of that set upon CAIN; and though this may at first sight appear to militate against the argument before us, yet upon consideration we shall find that it confirms
it. Whatever might have been the nature of the mark set upon Cain, one thing is clear--that it denoted the bearer of it to be placed under the immediate protection of God, so that no one should dare to slay him 1.
Very pertinent to our question is the remark, that when the Greeks intimated the condemnation of a criminal to death, they marked his name in the judicial tablet, with the letter Θ; and on the contrary, when they wished to express his acquittal, with a Τ 2. The former is said to have been the initial letter of Θάνατος--death: but of the latter we have received no satisfactory explanation from the ancients. It is probably derived from the original symbol of dedication to the Deity, which we have been considering, borrowed by the Greeks from the Egyptians, and used in ignorance of its mystic meaning. The Τ which was to be set upon the foreheads of the servants of God in Jerusalem,
was of the same nature as the blood sprinkled upon the door-posts of the Israelites in Egypt, to signify to the destroying angel those whom God had taken under his immediate protection, and who were to be saved in the destruction of the wicked. It was, in effect, a symbol of acquittal; God having acquitted or justified them; and therefore they were to be spared. From this original emblem of divine protection, the Greeks derived the notion of marking the names of acquitted persons with a Τ, without, however, knowing its real signification. The Θ, as a sign of condemnation, was plausibly explained as the initial letter of the word Θάνατος; and it is perhaps under this character that we find it impressed upon tombs 1. But it is a singular fact, and worthy of consideration, that this letter Θ was invented by, and named after, the same THOTH, who is said to have introduced the mystic Tau into the Egyptian alphabet; and as Θαῦμα implied "a wonder," so Θηταλὰ implied Θαυμαστὰ, "wonderful"--Ψεύδεσιν ὅμοια, says Hesychius, "like lies." Now in Scripture, IDOLATRY is uniformly described as a LIE. "Is there not a LIE in my right hand?"
is the question which the prophet Isaiah would have the maker of graven images ask himself, while he is fabricating a god. Hence, perhaps, as the mystic THAU denoted him who was marked with it to be the servant of God, the mystic THETA might in opposition signify, the votary of IDOLATRY: and hence, when Τ was adopted as a symbol of acquittal, Θ would be received as a sign of condemnation.
Calmet (Comment sur Ezek. c. 9) has a note explanatory of the mystic THAU, and brings forward the original text of Job xxxi. 35, as another instance of its application--"Behold, here is my THAU! let the Almighty answer me." This he contends is the right translation. "Behold my SIGN!" is the marginal reading of our authorized version. The whole context evidently refers to some distinctive badge, worn by Job. The very next verse alludes to it--"Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me."
A very curious form of the Taautic symbol is sometimes presented in Egyptian hieroglyphics--that of a hawk-headed serpent issuing from a circle which surmounts the cross, and having another smaller circle at the extremity of his
tail. The hawk-headed serpent was a favourite emblem of the DIVINE MIND, with the Egyptians, according to Sanchoniathon--"Their most divine symbol was a serpent having the face of a hawk. When he opens his eyes, the whole of first-born space is filled with light: when he shuts them, it is darkness 1." This hieroglyphic was a perfect symbol of the Supreme Being.
In concluding this long and desultory article, we may remark, that all the planets known to the ancients were distinguished by the mystic Taautic Cross, in conjunction with the solar or lunar symbols:--Thus,
SATURN was denoted by the lunar emblem, surmounted by the Taautic cross.
JUPITER, by the lunar emblem, surmounting the Θαῦμα.
MARS, by its combination with the solar symbol.
VENUS was distinguished by the same combination, but the Taautic cross was below the circle.
MERCURY united all the symbols.
Whatever may be the mystic meaning of these astronomical signs, their connexion with
the solar and lunar idolatry, and their claim upon THOTH, as the author of their existence, seem manifest--the same THOTH, or TAAUTUS, who promoted OPHIOLATREIA.
3. OPHIOLATREIA had taken such deep root in Egypt, that the serpent was not merely regarded as an emblem of divinity, but even held in estimation as the instrument of an oracle. The priests of the temple of Isis had a silver image of a serpent so constructed as to enable a person in attendance to move its head without being observed by the supplicating votary. Juvenal refers to it in his sixth Satire, v. 537.
"Et movisse caput visa est argentea serpens."
[paragraph continues] Perhaps this was the same as the hawk-headed basilisk whose eyes were mechanically contrived to open or shut, according as the offering presented by the suppliant was received or rejected 1. This contrivance was intended, probably, as a type of what was supposed to pass in the regions of "first-born space," upon the opening or closing of the eyes of the god CNEPH. Under the symbol of a hawk-headed serpent, this god was adored, and a temple was erected to him in
the island of Elephantina in the upper Nile. He was esteemed prophetic, and his shrine resorted to as oracular.
4. But Egyptian superstition was not con-tented with worshipping divinity through its emblem the serpent. The senseless idolater soon bowed in adoration before the symbol itself; and worshipped this reptile, the representative of man's enemy, as a GOD.
This idolatry was certainly older than the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. For the author of the Book of Wisdom tells us, that when the Egyptians refused to let the children of Israel go, they were punished by plagues of the same animals which they had been accustomed to venerate as gods. Among these, the chief were serpents:--
"But for the foolish devices of their wickedness, wherewith being deceived, they worshipped serpents devoid of reason, and wild beasts: thou didst send a multitude of unreasonable beasts upon them for vengeance, that they might know, that wherewithal a man sinneth, by the same also shall he be punished 1."
Our elegant and learned etymologist, Bryant,
following up this idea, has elaborately and beautifully shown, in his "Essay on the Plagues of Egypt," that "wherewithal the Egyptians had sinned, by the same were they punished." The objects of their idolatry became the instruments of their punishment.
Another proof of the superior antiquity of Ophiolatreia is afforded by the divining cup of Joseph mentioned in Gen. xliv. The mention of this superstition in connection with such a name is not a little remarkable; and commentators have accordingly exerted themselves to explain away the inference that Joseph practised the heathen art of divination. I am as unwilling as any of them to believe that the Hebrew Patriarch was an idolater; but that the "divining cup" here mentioned was similar to the Poculum Boni Dæmonis of the Bacchanalian orgies, which so closely corresponded with those of Isis, cannot well be doubted by any one who examines the phraseology of the original text. Such a cup was preserved in the collection of the late Earl of Besborough, and is described by Mr. Pownall in the seventh volume of the Archæologia. Upon the lid of it are two serpents, and on the cup itself near the rim, the Ophite hierogram of
[paragraph continues] Medusa's head. The divining cup of Joseph may not have been so decorated; but it may have been originally or ostensibly kept for a similar purpose. For it should be recollected that Joseph married the daughter of Potipherah, the priest of ON: of the priest, namely, who presided in the temple of the Sun at Heliopolis, with which deity the Ophite hierogram was intimately connected. Nothing is more natural, therefore, than that the daughter of an Ophite priest should introduce into the household of her husband an instrument of Ophite idolatry. It does not follow that Joseph used it as such; but it follows from his whole conduct that he wished to pass as an Egyptian with his brethren, and the claiming such a cup as among his most valued property would only be acting in accordance with the character he had assumed.
It may be objected that the cup in question was not a divining cup, in the idolatrous application of that expression; but only a means by which Joseph divined or discovered that he had been robbed; namely, by missing it at his accustomed meal. But the phraseology of the original will lead to another inference. Joseph says, "know yet not that such a man as I am
divineth by divination?" The expression is נַחֵשׁ יְנַחֵשׁ which the Septuagint rendered literally οἰωνισμῷ οἰωνεῖται. Now נַחֵשׁ and οἰωνὸς are the peculiar words by which the serpent used in divination was designated 1.
I hesitated to deliver this conjecture respecting the cup of Joseph in the former edition of this treatise; but the opinion of Mr. Faber kindly communicated to me since its publication has determined me to advance it. He remarks that "the peculiar phraseology of Gen. xliv. 15. implies the worship of the Nachash." I argue, therefore, that the serpent was an object of veneration in Egypt before the Exodus of the Israelites.
Besides the great temple of the serpent-god CNEPH, at Elephantina, there was a celebrated one of Jupiter at Thebes, where the practice of Ophiolatreia was carried to a great length. We are informed, by Herodotus, that "At Thebes there are two serpents, by no means injurious to men; small in size, having two horns springing up from the top of the head. They bury these when dead in the temple of Jupiter: for they say that they are sacred to that God 2."
[paragraph continues] Ælian 1 also tells us, that in the time of Ptolemy Euergetes, a very large serpent was kept in the temple of Æsculapius at Alexandria. He also mentions another place in which a live serpent of great magnitude was kept and adored with divine honours. He calls this place MELITE; it ought to be METELE. This latter place is fixed by D’Anville in the Delta, not far from ONUPHIS. This serpent, we are told, had priests and ministers, a table and bowl. The priests, every day, carried into the sacred chamber a cake made of flour and honey, and retired. Returning the next day, they always found the bowl empty. On one occasion, one of the elder priests being extremely anxious to see the sacred serpent, went in alone, and having deposited the cake, retired. When the serpent had ascended the table to his feast, the priest came in, throwing open the door with great violence: upon which the serpent departed in great indignation. But the priest was shortly after seized with a mental malady, and having confessed his crime, became dumb, and wasted away, until he died 2.
Among the prefectures of Egypt, we find one
called ONUPHIS, from the city which was the capital of it: upon which Kircher has the following remark: "In the Coptic language this city was called PIHOF or NOUPHION, which signifies a serpent. I think this is the same city as the NOPH of the Hebrews, by which name MEMPHIS was also called. This prefecture is called ONUPHIS, because here they worshipped the asp; as Pausanias, when speaking of the worship of animals in Bœotia, says, "As in the city of Onuphis, in Egypt, they worship the asp."
In Montfaucon, plate 46, vol. ii. we have an engraving of an ancient Egyptian marble found at Rome, anno 1709, in which there is a representation of a priest kneeling down before an idol, which, instead of a head of its own, has three serpents rising up out of the shapeless block.
In Herwart's tables of Egyptian hieroglyphics, we see a priest offering adoration to a serpent. The same occurs in the Isiac table.
That these denoted something more than a mere worship of an idol, is evident from the foregoing instances of actual worship paid to the reptile.
In a tomb at Biban al Malook is a beautiful
painting, descriptive of the rites of Ophiolatreia. The officiating priest is represented with a sword in his hand, and three headless victims are kneeling before an immense serpent. Isis is seen sitting under the arch made by the serpent's body, and the sacred asp, with a human face is behind her, seated on the serpent's tail. This picture proves that the serpent was propitiated by human victims.
The art by which the Egyptians charmed snakes, and which is still practised by jugglers in that country and in some parts of Barbary, was probably first learned in the serpent temples. The most celebrated artists were the Psylli of Africa. The charming of serpents is a very old art, and is alluded to by David, Psalm lviii. Jeremiah viii. 17, and in Ecclus. xii. 13.
The stupidity of the Egyptians was in no wise less favourable to this idolatry than the cunning of their priests. Plutarch has recorded an anecdote which confirms the truth of this remark. I once saw in Egypt two men quarrelling, each of whom, upon the approach of a snake, called him his AGATHODÆMON, and requested him to embrace his cause 1."
5. Nor did the worship of the serpent in Egypt, any more than in Phœnicia, fly before the face of advancing Christianity, to return no more. The gnostic heretics, as we have seen, united Ophiolatreia with the religion of the cross; and the remains of their superstition were observed in Egypt by Bishop Pococke, when he visited the banks of the Nile. The narrative is so curious, and so apposite to our inquiry, that I cannot be contented with a mere reference to it. "The next day," says the Bishop, "we came to Raigny, where the religious sheikh of the famous serpent Heredy, was at the side of the river to meet us . . . . He went with us to the grotto of the serpent, that has been so much talked of under the name of the Sheikh Heredy, of which I shall give a particular account, in order to show the folly, credulity, and superstition of these people; for the Christians have faith in it as well as the Turks. We went ascending between the rocky mountain for half a mile, and came to a part where the valley opens wider. On the right is a mosque, built with a dome over it, against the side of the rock, like a sheikh's burial-place. In it there is a large cleft in the rock, out of
which they say the serpent comes. There is a tomb in the mosque, in the Turkish manner; that, they say, is the tomb of Heredy; which would make one imagine that one of their saints is buried there, and that they suppose his soul may be in the serpent; for I observed that they went and kissed the tomb with much devotion, and said their prayers at it. Opposite to this cleft there is another, which they say is the tomb of Ogli Hassan, that is, of Hassan the son of Heredy: there are two other clefts, which they say are inhabited by saints or angels. The sheikh told me there were two of these serpents, but the common notion is, that there is only one. He said it had been there ever since the time of Mahomet. The shape of it is like that of other serpents of the harm-less breed. He comes out only during the four summer months, and it is said that they sacrifice to it. This the sheikh denied, and affirmed they only brought sheep, lambs, and money, to buy oil for the lamps--but I saw much blood and entrails of beasts lately killed before the door. The stories are so ridiculous that they ought not to be repeated, if it were not to give an instance of their idolatry in those parts in this respect;
though the Mahometan religion seems to be very far from it in other things. They say the virtue of this serpent is to cure all diseases of those who go to it, &c. They are also full of a story, that when a number of women go there once a year, he passes by and looks on them, and goes and twines about the neck of the most beautiful. . . . . . . I was surprised to hear a grave and sensible Christian say that he always cured any distempers, but that worse followed. And some Christians really believe that he works miracles, and say it is the devil mentioned in Tobit, whom the angel Gabriel drove into the utmost parts of Egypt," &c 1.
Bishop Pococke thinks (and justly) that the above superstition is a remnant of the ancient Ophiolatreia. The annual visit of the women is similar to the customs observed in Epirus, and at Lanuvium, of which we shall see a full account in the sequel.
With these notices we close our remarks on the serpent-worship in Egypt; from whence, however, it spread far and wide, until almost every nation of Africa became devoted to the same idolatry.
II. ETHIOPIA.--The superstition of the serpent travelled into Ethiopia, a country whose very name according to Bryant 1, denotes "the land of the solar-serpent worship." Be this as it may, the chronicles of Abyssinia and the local traditions of that country, abundantly establish the Ophiolatreia of the Ethiopians. The first king of Ethiopia is said to have been a serpent 2; he conquered the province of Tigre, and reigned over it. He was called Arwè, which in the Abyssinian language meant "a serpent." It is remarkable that the word Nagash (which is evidently the same as the Naig of Hindustan, and derived from the Hebrew Nachash, a snake) was a title of the ancient Abyssinian kings. The Arabs called them Nagashi 3, in the same manner as the kings of Egypt were called Pharaoh: and in the writings of our early voyagers, we frequently meet with "the Negus" of Abyssinia, a title which sounded strange, and somewhat ludicrous, in English ears.
An Abyssinian monk named Gregory, visited Germany a short time before Ludolf published his "Ethiopic History," and the way in which
he accounted for the tradition of a "serpent king," is highly interesting. "Being asked about king Arwè, he said, that there was an ancient tradition among his countrymen, that the very early Ethiopians worshipped a great serpent as a god; and hence the name of the king Arwè, 'a snake.' That this serpent was slain by Angabus, who for this bold deed was elected king, and handed down the throne to his posterity 1."
The worship of the serpent prevailed at Axum until the Abyssinians were converted to Christianity. The glory of this conversion is ascribed to nine saints, who are reported to have succeeded by the instrumentality of miracles. Ludolf 2 citing father Mendez, thus enumerates their triumphs. "These did great miracles when they converted a great part of Ethiopia; and among others, it is reported that 'a great dragon who lived near Axum, and devoured many men and cattle, was burst asunder by their prayers.' An Abyssinian poet celebrated the praises of these Christian Missionaries, in a poem which Ludolf quotes. The founder of Ophiolatreia, or rather the leader of the first
[paragraph continues] Ophite Colony into these remote countries, was probably the same Thoth who planted this religion in Phœnicia and Egypt. For we find the word Tot, still curiously employed in Abyssinia to denote an idol, and what is remarkable, "A naked figure of a man is not a Tot; but if he have the head of a dog or a serpent, instead of a human head, he becomes a Tot 1."
Although the seven Christian saints overcame the Dragon of Axum, they did not succeed in destroying his whole family. The Shangalla, a race of Negroes on the northern frontier of Abyssinia, retain to this day their primitive superstitions; they worship serpents, trees, and the heavenly host 2. And the Agaazi, a tribe of Ethiopian shepherds, still dwell in the mountains, called (probably in reference to the Ophite superstitions there practised in former times) Habab: which means "a serpent." This word looks very like a reduplication of the universal AB, which was the name of the Serpent-god in most primitive countries which had any connection with Phœnicia.
III. WHIDAH AND CONGO.--The worship of the serpent was not confined to the north-eastern
portion of Africa. Later discoveries have detected, in other parts of the peninsula, unknown to the ancients, not merely vestiges, but the actual existence and practice of Ophiolatreia, in its worst and most degraded forms.
The kingdom of WHIDAH, and the adjacent regions, may have derived their adoration of the serpent from the original settlers. For the negro character of the people is so totally distinct from the features of the Egyptians, or any other known race, that they could have had none, or very little, subsequent intercourse with foreign nations. The serpent-worship of western Africa was, therefore, most probably aboriginal; that is, propagated at the same period with that of Egypt and Phœnicia, by the earliest descendants of Ham.
Another argument for its originality may be derived from the purity, or rather unity, of its character. It did not mix itself up, like the superstition of other countries, with the solar worship, of which the serpent was always a favourite and important feature; but displayed itself to the eyes of the first European discoverers in all its nakedness of SERPENT-WORSHIP, retaining only a name, which marks the migration of the
sacred serpent from the Euphrates to the Congo; and serves to resolve THE WHOLE OF OPHIOLATREIA into THE FALL OF MAN in Paradise.
The following curious particulars respecting the serpent-worship of Whidah are chiefly extracted from vol. xvi. p. 411, of the "Modern Universal History," which is indebted for its information to the works of De Marchais, Barbot, Atkyns, and Bosman; the last of which may be seen in Acta Eruditor, Lipsiæ, 1705, p. 265, under the form of an "Essay on Guinea." In Astley's Collection of Voyages there is also an account compiled from every authority then known; and a very interesting description of the rites and ceremonies connected with this superstition.
The gods of Whidah may be divided into three classes,--the serpent, tall trees, and the sea: of these the serpent is the most celebrated and honoured, the other two being subordinate to this deity. The snake, which the Whidanese thus honour and worship, is perfectly harmless, and to be seen in all the houses of the natives, leaving its young in their very beds, from which it is the height of impiety to dislodge them.
This serpent they invoke under all the difficulties and emergencies of life. For this purpose
they make rich offerings to it of money, silks, live cattle, and indeed all kinds of European or African commodities. The king, especially, at the instigation of the priests, under every national visitation, makes great offerings and entertainments at the serpent's shrine. The most celebrated temple in the kingdom they call "THE SERPENT'S HOUSE;" to which processions and pilgrimages are often made, and victims daily brought, and at which oracles are inquired 1. Here there is a vast establishment of priests and priestesses, with a pontiff at their head. The priestesses call themselves "the children of God," and have their bodies marked with the figure of the serpent. The kings of Whidah used formerly to make annual processions to this temple; but the expense was so great, that the sovereign who governed the country when Bosman visited it, discontinued the practice, and gave great offence thereby to the priests, who revenged themselves by procuring his daughter to be possessed by the serpent, which is a part of their superstition no less lucrative than atrocious. It was said that the
king countenanced this attack upon his daughter; but, considering the heavy expense in which it would involve him to release her, this is hardly credible. The manner of this practice was the following:--At the time of harvest, the priests of the serpent pretended that their god prowled nightly about the fields in search of victims, which were always females. Whenever he met any of these, he instantly seized them, and upon their shrieks and resistance vanished; but not until he had, by his supernatural influence, deprived them of the use of reason. Upon the arrival of their friends, these women were found to be in a frantic state; and being quite beyond control at home, were conveyed to one of the hospitals appointed for this purpose by the king, where they remained under the care of the priests of the serpent until they were cured. This did not take place until their residence in the hospital had swelled the account for board and medical attendance to the highest pitch to which it would be prudent for the priests to carry them. They were then sent back; and whoever mentioned a single circumstance of what had happened in these dens of villany, was secretly poisoned or
dispatched by some violent means. Such deaths, or murders, were always looked upon as the just visitation of the serpent for divulging his mysteries. The fraud of the priests, their menaces and promises, frequently induced the women to accede to their iniquitous designs; and in most cases, the possession was a concerted plan between the priest and the woman, to plunder her husband or parents, under the plea of alimony and fees for the miraculous cure.
The traditions of the natives respecting the origin and antiquity of this superstition are curious. They assert that the worship is of very ancient date, and that the first serpent of this sacred species came to them from a foreign and remote country, "where the people pretended to worship him, but were in truth unworthy of his sacred protection, on account of their vices and crimes." Their ancestors, delighted with the preference thus shown to them, received the sacred serpent with every mark of veneration. They carried him in a silken carpet to a temple, and offered him a worship due to his divinity. This venerable snake, the ancestor of those now worshipped in Whidah, they believed was still alive somewhere, and grown to an enormous bulk.
[paragraph continues] The temple which had been prepared for him not being sufficiently splendid, another was built; the same in which he was worshipped when Bosman visited Whidah, anno 1697. So sacred were the descendents of this venerated serpent, that no native, on pain of death, dared injure or molest them, however troublesome or mischievous. Even Europeans were in great danger of massacre, who maltreated any of these holy and domestic gods. An anecdote is recorded by Bosman and Barbot, of the severe revenge taken by the natives on the first English visitors of Guinea, who happened accidentally to meet with and kill one of these snakes in their magazine. The inhabitants, when they heard that the English had destroyed one of their most holy fetiches, set fire to the magazine, and having massacred the unfortunate owners, burnt their bodies and their goods in the same fire. A similar, but a less tragical act of fanaticism was at another time perpetrated, at the instigation of the priests, and by order of the king:--A hog having once killed one of the sacred serpents, a thousand Whidanese, armed with swords, were sent through the country, destroying every animal of the proscribed race which they chanced
to meet, until the multitude of these useful and harmless creatures was reduced to a very small number. A seasonable fit of reflection on the part of the king saved the remainder. This anecdote is more interesting to the inquirer into the native superstitions than the former, inasmuch as no feeling but that of religious fanaticism could have given occasion to it; whereas, many hostile feelings might have conspired in their animosity against the English, besides that of vengeance for sacrilege.
Other anecdotes similar to this are told in Astley's Collection of Voyages.
The worship of the snake continued in Whidah until the year 1726, when the country was conquered by the Dahomeys, and the sacred snakes destroyed. The Dahomeys having seized every reptile of this species which they could find, "held them up by the middle, and said to them, 'If you are gods, speak and save yourselves;'--which the poor snakes not being able to do, the Dahomeys cut their heads off, ripped them open, broiled them, and eat them 1."
Such is the account of Captain Snellgrave,
who visited the country three weeks after the event.
The worship of the serpent was derived by the Whidanese from their neighbours, the people of Ardrah; but with them all clue to its origin is lost, except such as I will endeavour presently to trace.
A similar superstition prevailed in the kingdom of CONGO, when first visited by the Portuguese. It was reprobated by the Roman Catholic priests, and, at their request, forbidden by an edict of Alphonso, king of Portugal, on pain of death. The following we read in Purchas's Pilgrims, part i. p. 768.
"The negroes of Congo worshipped serpents, which they fed with their daintiest provisions. . . . . . Snakes and adders envenomed their souls with a more deadly poison than they did their bodies."
Of the interior of Africa we have had little authentic information until lately; by which time, the irruption of the Mohamedans (Moors and Arabs) had, for the most part, effaced the superstitions of the natives. There are, however, even now, many idolatrous tribes of which we have no account at all. When time and science shall have laid open their superstitions,
we shall probably meet with many more votaries of the sacred serpent in that region of mystery 1.
But from this prospect, perhaps visionary, of future discoveries, let us turn to the knowledge which we already possess of the superstitions of the Gold Coast. We have ascertained that the SERPENT was in reality worshipped there; that temples, priests, and sacrifices were appointed to him; and that there is a tradition, that this worship came originally from a foreign country. But, moreover, we are in possession of facts which unequivocally demonstrate WHENCE that worship came.
In the kingdom of Whidah there is still a tribe of people known by the name of EBOES, who are addicted to a worship which may be considered as little more than a variation of Ophiolatreia. They worship the guana, a species of lizard.
A neighbouring tribe, the KOROMANTYNES, are said to adore a spiritual deity, called OBONI, who is a malicious spirit, pervades heaven, and earth, and sea, and is THE AUTHOR OF ALL EVIL 1.
From these two tribes chiefly were the negroes of Jamaica and the West Indian islands formerly taken; and the addiction of these people to the OBEAH-WORSHIP is well known by melancholy memorials.
The word obeah may be the feminine adjective of the substantive obi, which, in the native language of the negroes, signifies a CHARM. By means of this charm the professors of Obi, who were all natives of Africa, held their unhappy votaries in such awe, that against whomsoever the charm was laid, or as they termed it, "obi was set," that person invariably became the victim of his own horror, and died a miserable death. The usual practice was to set this charm (which consisted of several ingredients 2 mixed
up into the form of a cake) at the door, or in the path of the victim, who having once fixed his eyes upon it, rarely recovered from the shock. An irresistible horror overcame him in an instant; a gradual decay of mind and body ensued, and a few days sufficed to carry him to his grave.
From these premises we may conjecture what relation the Obeah-worship bears to the Ophiolatreia of the ancients. The origin of the terms OBEAH and OBI may be traced to the Cauaanitish superstition of the OB or OUB, which Bryant has so ingeniously detected in his remarks upon the witch of Endor 1.
"The woman at Endor," observes Bryant, "who had a familiar spirit, is called אוב, Oub,
or Ob; and it is interpreted Pythonissa. The serpent was also in the Egyptian language called Ob or Aub. We are told by Horus Apollo, that the basilisk, or royal serpent, was named oubaios: it should have been rendered oubos for oubaios is a possessive, and not a proper name." Oubos is, therefore, the name of the serpent Oub, with a Greek termination--a practice universally adopted by Grecian writers, when speaking of foreign appellatives. Besides, Kircher remarks, that Obion is still, among the people of Egypt, the name of a serpent. "The same occurs in the Coptic Lexicon 1." OBION, in its original signification, was a sacred title, applied to the solar god, who was symbolized by the serpent OB. It is compounded of OB and ON. ON is a title of the SUN--thus the city of ON, in Egypt, was called by the Greeks Heliopolis.
It is observable, that the woman of Endor is called Oub or Ob; and she was applied to as oracular. Similarly, whenever a negro was desirous of detecting a thief, or of recovering lost property, he applied to the obi-man or obi-woman, for an oracle.
The argument that the OBEAH-WORSHIP was originally connected with Ophiolatreia, may be further corroborated by the inferences which result from the following facts:--
1. The natives of Whidah worshipped the serpent down to the year 1726.
2. A tribe of the Whidanese is called EBOES; which has the same signification as OBOES--for they may be traced to the same original word אוב, which has successively undergone the variations, oph, ob, eph, eb, or ev. The term EBOES may, therefore, without any great violence to probability, be interpreted, "the worshippers of EPH."
3. These people (the Eboes) are still addicted to a species of serpent-worship: they worship the guana.
4. A neighbouring tribe, the Koromantynes, adore and propitiate as THE EVIL SPIRIT, a god whom they call OBONI.
From these facts we may infer, that the deity OBONI was the original evil deity of the Negro nations of that part of Africa;--that he was originally worshipped under the symbol of a serpent, as his name imports; that his peculiar worshippers (perhaps his priesthood) were called
[paragraph continues] Oboes 1;--that the word oboes implies worshippers of OB;--and lastly, that OBONI is no other than the OPHION of Phœnicia, and the OBION of Egypt; each of which was a title of the same solar god, who was symbolized by the serpent OB. Hence there is room for one of these two inferences; that the Gold Coast was either colonized from Canaan, or from Egypt: the former of which is perhaps the more probable, from the greater facility afforded to the Phœnicians by navigation than to the Egyptians, who would have to cross deserts, and overcome many other physical difficulties in their distant march. The period at which this emigration took place, must be referred to a very remote age, not only because of the totally distinct physical characteristics of the Negroes, but also of the simplicity of their worship. They had neither the multitudinous host of the Egyptian Pantheon, nor the absorbing adoration of the Syrian goddess: they had neither mythology nor
image-worship 1; but preserved the simple, original veneration of the serpent in his living form. The name of the evil deity, OBONI, it is true, indicates a relation to the solar worship; but as they had neither obelisks nor pyramids, nor any of the other adjuncts of this peculiar religion, it is probable that the name OBONI was introduced at a later period. However that may be, it is certain that the worship of the serpent prevailed in this part of Africa from the earliest times.
That the Koromantynes should worship Oboni as a spirit, while the Eboes, or Oboes, adored him under the emblem of the guava; and so degraded mental into sensual worship, is by no means surprising. For while history represents the Koromantynes as a peculiarly quick and noble-minded race, it describes the Eboes as the most degraded among the Negro tribes, apparently susceptible of no generous feeling 2. It was therefore to be expected that the Koromantynes would first emancipate themselves from the superstition of their common ancestors. Hence,
while their religion became more intellectual, that of the Eboes would retain its original character, with very little change; especially, if these were (as there is reason to suppose) the descendants of the priesthood. So that while the former would worship OBONI as a spirit, the latter would worship him under his emblem the guana.
In one respect, however, (and it is an important and very remarkable coincidence of opinion,) they agreed. The Eboes affirmed that the most acceptable offering at the shrine of the guana was a HUMAN VICTIM: and the Koromantynes maintained, that when OBONI was angry, nothing could appease him but a HUMAN SACRIFICE! SO striking a coincidence as this cannot but remind us of the great and eternal truth, that victory over the serpent could only be obtained by the "WOMAN'S SEED:" and it is another link in the chain of the universal faith, that before mankind could be reconciled to GOD--"IT WAS EXPEDIENT THAT ONE MAN SHOULD DIE FOR THE PEOPLE 1."
With these remarks I take leave of Africa--a
country in which the serpent was remarkably venerated. The course of the Nile--the shores of the Mediterranean--the coasts of Guinea--and even Central Africa itself, furnish proofs of the prevailing idolatry; and many tribes, even yet unknown, may probably be discovered which uphold the same superstition. Thus Africa, which remains a mystery to the geographer, and little more than a sandy desert to the merchant, maybe a mine of knowledge to the Christian scholar, who believes the Scriptures, and expects the promises of GOD.
120:1 Montfaucon, ii. 191.
120:2 Kircher Œdip. "Egypt. vol. iii. p, 46, who calls it the thirteenth letter.
121:1 Jablonski Panth. Ægypt. c. iv. p. 81.
121:2 Ibid. lib. v. c. 6.
122:1 Kircher. Œdip. Æg. iii. 36; who calls it the 12th letter.
122:2 Montfaucon, vol. 5.
122:3 This was a celebrated plate of brass overlaid with black enamel, intermixed with plates of silver. It was destroyed at the taking of Mantua, 1630. See Montfaucon, who has engraved it, vol. 2.
123:1 Jablonski, P. Æg. 119. See also Bryant ii. 200.
123:2 De Anim. x. 31.
124:1 Lib. 2. Amor. Eleg. 13.
126:1 Porphyry in Euseb. cited by Montfaucon, supplement, ii. 214.
126:2 See plates in Maurice Ind. Antiq. Vols. II. III. IV.
127:1 See plate in Kircher.
127:2 Desc. of East. i. 70.
127:3 Bryant, Plagues of Egypt, 209.
127:4 Jablonski, P. Æg. lib. i. p. 86.
128:1 Præp. Ev. lib. i. p. 42.
128:2 Jablonski ut supra.
130:1 In the British Museum, among the Grecian Antiquities, are two votive feet, encircled by serpents.
131:1 Horus Apollo, c. i. p. 2.
131:2 Spanheim De Usu Num. 188.
131:3 Jablonski, P. Æ. 89.
132:1 See Plates, &c. in Montfaucon.
132:2 Horus Apollo, c. i. p. 2.
133:1 Gesner, Hist. Anim. p. 54, citing Ælian. To some such notion may possibly be referred Cleopatra's choice of death. She destroyed herself by the venom of a viper.
134:1 Pæd. lib. ii. 245. Edit. Potter.
134:2 Cœl. Rhodig. cited by Gesner, Hist. Anim. 32. Dr. Clarke, Travels, vol. i. p. 72, describes a very beautiful bracelet of golden serpents which was found in a tumulus, near the Cimmerian Bosphorus.
134:3 Montfaucon, Vol. i. plate, p. 8.
135:1 Montfaucon, Vol. i. plate, p. 85.
135:2 Kircher, Pamp. Obel. plate of Anubis.
135:3 De Astrolog. p. 544, Edit. 1615, Paris.
136:1 Parkhurst, Lex. οφις.
136:2 Lib. iv. Hierogr. 20.
138:1 For this conjecture I must crave indulgence; for though only a conjecture, unsupported by authority, I cannot but consider it as founded on probability. The reader will find, upon reference to Kircher, that I have taken other liberties with his argument besides this, which may stand or fall by its own merits.
139:1 Macrob. Saturnal. lib. i. c. 19.
141:1 See Bruce's Travels--plate.
143:1 Matt. xvi. 24.
144:1 Gal. vi. 17. See also Rev. xiii. 16. and xiv. 1.
144:2 Border's Oriental Customs on Ezek. ix. 4, and Gal. vi. 17.
145:1 Some learned men, as Mr. Faber, doubt the Rabbinical legend, and even whether there was any mark at all upon Cain. They translate the text, "And the Lord appointed a sign unto Cain, that no one finding him should kill him."
145:2 Alexander ab Alex. lib. iii. c. 5, cum notis Tiraquelli. See also Persius, Sat. iv. 12.
146:1 Montf. Supplent. vol. v. p. 42.
148:1 Euseb. Præp. Evang. i. 41.
149:1 Gesner. Hist. Anim. lib. v. p. 59.
150:1 Wisd. c. xi. v. 15.
153:1 Hesychius on οἰωνός.
153:2 Herod. ii. 74.
154:1 De Animal. lib. xvi. c. 39.
154:2 Ælian. Var. Hist. lib. xi. c. 17.
156:1 Amator, p. 755.
159:1 Pococke, Desc. of East, vol. i.
160:1 Anal. ii. 206.
160:2 Ludolf. Ethiop. Hist.
160:3 Ludolf. lib. ii. c. i. p. 23. 32.
161:1 Ludolf. lib. ii. c. 3.
161:2 Ludolf. Comment. lib. iii. p. 284.
162:1 Bruce, vol. i. 411.
162:2 Bruce, vol. ii. 554.
165:1 Bosman on Guinea, Acta Erud. Lip. 1705, p. 265.
169:1 Astley, vol. iii. p. 489.
171:1 The worship of the snake still prevails in CENTRAL AFRICA 2, although in danger of being shortly superseded by Islamism. Among the idols in a temple of the Yaribeans is one with the image of a snake upon his head; which reminds us of the Egyptian priest with the asp of Isis.
171:2 Lander's Records. Preface, and vol. ii. p. 198.
172:1 Bryan Edwards's Hist. of the West Indies, vol. ii. pp. 75 and 466.
172:2 One of these was crocodiles' teeth, perhaps a substitute for serpents'; the rest were bits of rags, feathers, &c. A practice somewhat similar to this may be discovered in the p. 173 philtres, or love-charms, of the Greeks and Romans. These consisted, among other things, of the bones of snakes, screech owls' feathers, and bands of wool twisted upon a wheel 3."
The connexion of serpents and charms is noticed by Horace, Epod. v. 14.
Canidia brevibus implicata viperis
Crines et incomptum caput, &c. &c.
172:3 Anal. vol. i. pp. 59, 60.
173:1 Potter, Archæol. Græca, H. 251.
174:1 Bryant, ut supra.
176:1 The name of the king of the Eboes in 1831 was OBI. The people described by Lander are far less barbarous than the Eboes of Edwards. The Slave Trade, which generally barbarizes Europeans, appears in this instance to have conferred a comparative civilization upon Africans.
177:1 Their only idol--if it may be called one--was the Argoye, a human figure crowned with serpents and lizards. It was a subordinate fetiche.
177:2 Bryan Edwards, ut supra.
178:1 John xviii. 14.
Next: Chapter III. Serpent-Worship in Europe