Index Previous Next
HAVING traced the origin and progress of Ophiolatreia, it may be useful to ascertain the causes and periods of its decline. Such an inquiry, though little more than a recapitulation of facts already mentioned, will tend to give a clearer view of the subject as a whole; and to meet an objection which might be urged against the legitimacy of some of the preceding inferences. The argument of Ophiolatreia may in some cases appear to have been grounded upon insufficient data: facts may have been appealed to in support of the theory which may seem to have had their origin in accident, or in superstitions apparently unconnected with the worship of the serpent. But if reasons can be assigned for the partial prevalence of Ophiolatreia in some countries, and its non-appearance in others, and its total suppression in all where-ever
it once reigned in plentitude of power, the argument of this treatise will be restored and established.
It is not to be expected that the worship of the serpent should be found prevailing with the same degree of intensity in every country. Local circumstances, at this distance of years impossible to be estimated, may have caused many modifications, even if the idolatry had been originally uniformly diffused. But I do not contend for uniform diffusion, the argument is universality, and not uniformity.
The prevalence of this idolatry has been proved to be so general, that we have a reasonable ground for considering it as at one time or other universal. The principal causes to which the decline of serpent-worship may be referred are religious wars--hostile invasions--mental improvement--the progress of Christianity--and the Mohammedan conquests.
In the infancy of mankind true religion was limited to the descendants of Seth. The children of Cain carried with them from Paradise all that the Tree of Knowledge could teach--the knowledge of worldly "good," and of moral "evil." The rapid development of the human
mind in every science which tended to the promotion of earthly comforts was strongly exemplified in this apostate family, and proved that "the children of this world" were always "in their generation wiser than the children of light" in things which concern the gratification of the senses.
Of the family of Seth little is recorded besides their names, and that little assures us that they were "not of this world." But scarcely had Cain departed from the garden of Eden before "he built him a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son Enoch 1." When the increase of his family suggested separation, new inventions arose from the new necessity. Jabal, his descendant in the fifth degree, introduced the use of tents, and the arts of agricultural and pastoral life. "He was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle 2." At the same time, as if to show that simplicity of manners was not essentially the characteristic of a pastoral life, his brother Jubal invented the elegant art of music. "He was the father of them that handle the harp and organ 3." And
to complete the picture of worldly ease and comfort, as enjoyed by the more godless of the sons of Adam, another brother, Tubalcain, became "an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron 1." So that probably in less than three hundred years from the creation of man civilization had arrived at such a degree of perfection, that not only the necessaries, but even the luxuries of life were to be found in the family of the fugitive Cain.
Nothing like this is recorded of the posterity of Seth. All that we know of them is the simple but interesting fact, that "Enoch walked with God, and was not, for God took him 2." How different from that Enoch, the son of Cain, remembered only by the city which bore his name!
The awful extent of idolatry in those "days of rebuke and blasphemy" is strongly depicted in the short but memorable record--"In those days began men to call upon the name of the Lord 3." Not that they had never called upon this name before, but that, induced by the wickedness which was increasing around them, they "gave themselves then more earnestly to prayer."
[paragraph continues] Architecture, invented by their ungodly kinsmen, had been abused to the erection of heathen temples. "Brass and iron," introduced for domestic purposes, had been prostituted to the service of an insane idolatry: while a delirious multitude were dancing before its altars to the sounds of licentious music. It was high time, then, for the remnant of the sons of Seth to "call upon the name of the Lord," when rival superstitions disputed the dominion once held by the religion of JEHOVAH.
At that time, probably, commenced the reigns of the two great Apostasies which, for so many ages, divided and desolated the heathen world. The worship of the SUN and the worship of the SERPENT--the one a superstition of nature, the other a superstition of tradition--then, probably, usurped the throne of true religion.
We have seen that these two were the most ancient of false religions, and that there is every ground of conjecture for assigning to each an antediluvian origin. The very form of the expression, "Then began men to call upon the name of THE LORD," intimates that some men had called upon other names. This distinction between truth and falsehood would hardly have
been drawn had there been no false religions to furnish the distinction. That some kinds of idolatry must have prevailed before the flood, is probable, from the consideration that moral turpitude only, would scarcely have been sufficient to draw down the curse of God upon a whole world. Immorality, doubtless, was awfully prevalent: but ungodliness also must have prevailed to an equal or greater degree. God would scarcely have been so provoked, had not men prostituted their souls to Satan as well as their bodies to carnal lusts.
Such being the case, no superstitions were more natural than the worship of the SUN, the source of life and strength and vegetation; and the worship of the SERPENT, the recorded author of the most wonderful revolution in the moral world, which the tongues of men and angels could ever record. A creature which, under the agency of an indwelling spirit, could destroy the best work of God upon earth, seemed, to the ignorant and carnal mind, possessed of a power almost, if not altogether, divine. Hence the origin of serpent-worship.
Among the many arguments which prove the priority of these two superstitions, not the least
available is their constant hostility in every country in the world. Such an hostility would be the natural result of the position which they occupied as the two earliest of superstitions. True religion being obscured, (as we have every reason to believe it was,) the worshippers of the sun would naturally arrogate to themselves the privilege of the truth: and the Fall of Man being remembered as the work of the SERPENT, they would as naturally regard the Ophites as worshippers of the Devil, and feel themselves under a bond of eternal enmity against them.
Hence the whole struggle, originating in the aggressions of the worshippers of the sun, and carried on by the retaliation of the worshippers of the serpent. Tradition is full of their perpetual feuds. They enter into almost every leading fable; are depicted upon some of the most ancient works of art, and recorded in some of the oldest histories of man. For the verification of these assertions, it will be expedient to take a survey of those countries in which Ophiolatreia has principally prevailed.
1. BABYLON. Of Babylon we know little beyond the fact, that "they of the city worshipped
a dragon," whom Daniel the prophet destroyed by his prayers. .In consequence of this triumph, the idolatry was prohibited by a royal decree. The date of this prohibition is assigned to the first year of king Cyrus. The symbolical worship, however, continued for many years afterwards, Diodorus Siculus having seen in the ruined temple of Bel, images of silver serpents associated with the ordinary gods of the Gentiles.
2. PERSIA. Less accurate information as to circumstances, but equally certain as to the principal fact, is found in the history of Persia. How far the worship of the Host of Heaven may have superseded that of the serpent in the time of Cyrus, who governed both Babylon and Persia, is unknown. It is probable that the decree which suppressed Ophiolatreia in the former, suppressed it also in the latter country. But the rise of Zoroaster and the decisive success of his doctrines, unquestionably overthrew every other false religion in the Persian empire. If this philosopher was, as some suppose, a servant of the prophet Daniel, the influence acquired by the master over the minds of the nation would
naturally impart some power to the disciple; and the royal decree having opportunely abolished Ophiolatreia, an opening was made for any new system of religion which an artful and influential teacher might desire to inculcate. Zoroaster seized the favourable moment and met with no resistance. His success was the more assured, since he appeared rather as a reformer than an originator. The old Magian idolatry assumed, under his hand, a more alluring appearance. Some of its metaphysical absurdities were removed, and its simplicity of worship put on the gorgeous apparel of a faith which appealed to the senses rather than to the imagination. Fire temples arose above the naked "hill altars" of their ruder ancestors; and the sacred flame which his hallowed or daring hand was supposed to have brought down from heaven, was religiously guarded by an appointed priesthood. So awful were the sanctions of this new religion, that the whole nation gave way to the irresistible evidence of its divine authority. The worshippers of the serpent, if any remained, quailed under the genius of a prophet who had gazed upon the true Schechinah; and the portion of fire which he exhibited, in token of his ascent to heaven,
led captive the minds of a trembling people prepared to believe any thing of the servant of Daniel. The worship of the serpent, therefore, fell, and there was no blood upon the sword of the triumphant religion.
3. HINDÛSTAN. Far different was the case in Hindûstan. There fable and history alike teem with the perpetual conflicts of the sun and serpent. Surya is ever the enemy of Budha. The latter, under the hateful form of a serpent, had carried off the daughter of the son of Manna, and stolen the sacred books of Crishna, the incarnate son of Brahma. One of his family had also seized upon a horse which the son of Ramah had designed to be sacrificed to the sun 1. The race of Budha was therefore proscribed; and the children of Surya, i.e. the worshippers of the sun, and the children of Crishna, i.e. the votaries of the incarnate Son of God, felt themselves called upon to execute the sentence. The offences imputed to the serpent Budha are remarkable. The abduction of the woman, and the stealing of the sacred books of the incarnate God,
indicate the events in Paradise as the remote and traditional cause of the animosity.
The effects of this hostility were soon apparent. Long before the fatal irruption of the Mohammedans the vengeance of the allies had swept, like a simoom, over the cities of the Ophites. Alexander the Great found this unhappy remnant isolated in the range of mountains which lie to the west of the Indus, in Caubul. Upon the mountain Tak, under their king and priest Taxiles, a tribe of Hindûs securely worshipped the abomination of Paradise. The Macedonian monarch was shown an enormous dragon, "five acres in extent," which was the object of their adoration. This dragon, we have seen, could have been nothing but a dracontium, for it is measured by its superficial extent in land measure, which was the universal method of describing serpent temples both in poetry and historical prose. In these idolaters the invader of India found natural and faithful allies against the common enemy Porus. But his retirement left them at the mercy of their exasperated foes, who were not slow in exacting vengeance. In the process of time they were expelled from the fastnesses of Zabulistan and
and scattered through the Punjab. They remained in this broken condition until the Mohammedan Afghans bursting in among them with the terrible alternative of "the sword or the Koran," completed their destruction.
The ferocity with which the wars of Surya and Budha had been carried on, may be estimated by the recital of a single fact. The Takshacs had slain a king of Delhi, and his successor, in revenge, sacrificed in one campaign twenty thousand of this small but devoted race 1.
It ceases, therefore, to be a matter of surprise, that the idolatry of the serpent very soon degenerated into the mere mythic and symbolical worship which now characterizes the religion of the Brahmins.
4. CHINA, BURMAH, and SIAM. These countries retain but few impressions of their primeval superstitions. They were more under the influence of Budhism than Hindûstan; but their present religions are so different from the simplicity of Ophiolatreia, that we cannot help suspecting the alterations to have been produced by
the gradual encroachments of the Brahminical doctrines. It is difficult, at this distance of time, to assign all the reasons of the decline of the serpent worship which, from the adoration of the mystical dragon, we conclude must have once overspread these countries. In China, however, the celebrated Confucius might have reformed the old idolatry, and perhaps left it in its present form. That Confucius was born a serpent-worshipper, is probable from the fable that two serpents attended his mystical washing 1.
5. In ARABIA, the worship of the serpent was very early overthrown, and gave way to the adoration of the Host of Heaven. But if any traces of this superstition lingered among the innumerable idolatries of a land which was once divided between AUR and AUB, the sword and the Koran made an equal end of all.
6. SYRIA. The Syrian Ophites when scattered by the victorious arms of Joshua 2, preferred, for the most part, to resign their country rather than forsake their creed. Those of the Hivites
of Mount Libanus, who could not hide themselves among their native rocks (and thus fulfil the divine decree of being "left to prove" Israel), carried their religion into the islands of the Archipelago, into Thrace, into Macedonia, into Greece. Their subsequent history is to be found in the fables of mythology, in which the synchronous march of Cadmus to the Hellespont may indicate the retreat of a party of Kadmonites in that direction. Thus was the Ophiolatreia of the Canaanites overthrown, and the small remnant which remained, had their revenge by tempting the Israelites to worship 1 the brazen serpent of Moses, which had been preserved as one of the memorials of their deliverances in the Wilderness. This small remnant of Hivites, avowedly left by Jehovah to "prove Israel," was never entirely exterminated: for the spirit of Ophiolatreia again manifested itself in the early ages of Christianity in the form of the Ophite heresy, against which the pens of Epiphanius, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Tertullian, were so powerfully directed 2.
7. EGYPT. Ophiolatreia was never predominant
in Egypt. It formed but one of a multitude of superstitions, which divided that country into as many religions as there were districts. Their mutual animosity is well described by Juvenal in his nineteenth Satire. The "immortale odium et nunquam sanabile vulnus" of religious antipathy is illustrated by a tale of a battle between the Ombi, and the people of Tentyra:--and doubtless the same spirit of discord was universal. It was, however, all hushed by the hermetic seal of the preachers of the Koran.
8. ABYSSINIA. More distinct traces of the state of serpent-worship were left in Æthiopia. On the borders of Abyssinia the serpent is still worshipped by the Shangalla Negroes; but the glory of its overthrow in the more civilized portions of the land of Habesh, is ascribed to nine missionaries of the Christian church of Alexandria. Few facts in history are more clearly recorded than the conversion of the Abyssinian Ophites. It occurred during the Episcopacy of Athanasius, about the middle of the fourth century.
9. WHIDAH. Equally circumstantial is the narrative of the suppression of Ophiolatreia in Whidah. The fatal blow was given in 1726, by the Dahomeys, who destroyed all the serpents which had been kept for religious purposes. Captain Snelgrave visited the place only three weeks after the event. In other parts of Africa the superstition sunk beneath the scymetars of the Mohammedan Arabs: but if it still continue to linger among the mountains of the interior, the same fatal enemy will find it out 1.
10. The worshippers of the serpent had as little rest in Europe. The unremitting hostility of the children of the sun is indelibly stamped upon the annals of Grecian fable. The contest of Apollo and Python for the temple of Delphi, was a struggle of the sun-worshippers, for an Ophite sanctuary. One remarkable feature, however, distinguishes the fable. The promise of Paradise finds a singular parallel in the history of Apollo 2: and this very circumstance throws a light upon the cause of the hostility against the serpent. It would appear by the
fable that the Zabeans took possession of the Dracontium of Delphi, and substituted their own rites for those of the Ophites. But whether the country was still favourably disposed towards the old religion, or whether the usurpers desired to innovate gradually without too much violence to the prejudices of the votaries of the serpent, they preserved the general form and figure of the temple, together with some of its peculiar customs. The serpentine avenue was therefore only so far disturbed as to admit a central circular temple in honour of the SUN 1; the Pythoness still gave her oracles from the dracontic tripod; and live serpents were still kept in the subterranean recesses. A similar policy was observed by the triumphant children of the sun in other parts of Europe.
11. The idolatry of the serpent lost its integrity in THRACE, MACEDONIA, and EPIRUS, in a more peaceable manner. It gradually subsided into the mysteries of Dionusus. There is a mention of an attempt to unite it with the idolatry of the sun by a reformer whom history has agreed to call "Orpheus." The real meaning
of this word is probably, "The oracle of OR." (Or-phi.) OR was the same as the ORUS of the Egyptians, and the UR of the Chaldees; and was a title of the sun taken from his attribute of light. Orpheus, then, might have been some remarkable priest of the sun, who introduced many innovations into the religion of Thrace. On this account he was probably murdered by the Bacchantes in the horrible manner described by the poets. The Bacchantes were priestesses of the Dionusan Ophiolatreia, which he attempted to reform.
The persecution of Orpheus by the worshippers of the serpent, is corroborated by a curious tradition preserved by Ovid, Metam. lib. xi. which mentions the fate of his detruncated head. It was carried by the Hebrus into the sea, and thrown upon the sands of the island of Lesbos, where a serpent endeavouring to lacerate it was changed by Apollo into stone! This metamorphosis relates probably to a dracontium at Lesbos, which was an Ophite settlement: and the inference from the fable is this--that the remnant of the followers of Orpheus, escaping from the Thracian massacre, and landing at Lesbos, were inhospitably treated by the Ophites of that
island, but had the good fortune to elude their violence. The fable of Orpheus speaks also of his wife Eurydice having been previously slain by a serpent. This incident may mean that some Orphic rite, personified by this name, was destroyed by the serpent-worshippers. Orpheus, however, seems to have regarded the general policy of the Zabeans. His Institutes, which have been preserved under the title of the "Orphic Hymns," enrol the serpent as the chief symbol of the Cabiri.
12. The constant animosity of the rival religions of the sun and serpent is strikingly illustrated by the Etruscan Vases, which have been lately found at Canino, on the supposed site of the ancient Vitulonia. Whether these vases were of native manufacture or not, the histories which they record belong to Greece. The subjects seem chiefly to be borrowed from the Grecian Mythology and the Trojan war. Upon several of the vases are warriors fighting, some of whose shields are charged with an eagle, the device of the sun-worshippers 1, and others with a serpent, the emblem of the Ophites. In all
of them the warrior with the eagle shield is represented as victorious.
One of the vases bears, what is named, a representation of Hector: and, curiously enough, his device is a serpent. Now we know from other sources that the Phrygians were Ophites, and this picture opportunely illustrates the fact. Is it possible that the Trojan war may have been undertaken upon a religious quarrel? It is certainly strange that in all these historic pictures the Grecian warriors are denoted by the emblem of the sun, and the Trojan by that of the mystic serpent. The very cause of the quarrel assigned by tradition remarkably coincides with the Indian story of the wars of Surya and Budha. The abduction of a woman is stated to have been the origin of both the Indian and the Trojan feuds.
13. COLCHOS. But whatever may have been the true nature of the Trojan war, another event in Grecian history, almost as celebrated, was undoubtedly an expedition against the odious race of the serpent.
The voyage of the Argonauts had avowedly a religious object; and the storming of the DRACONTIUM of Colchos cannot be mistaken. The crew of the Argo might indeed have been what Bryant
supposes they were--ARKITES--worshippers of the personified ark of Noah: but according to the principles of his own analysis, Jason, the leader was the same name as Æson, and Æson was a compound of Æs, fire" and ON the Solar God. The Argonauts may therefore have been under the guidance of a warrior of the Sun--an inveterate and universal enemy of the family of the Serpent.
It matters not, however, what was the religion of the navigators of the Argo. Their expedition proves the custom of religious wars against the Ophites; and their success determines the epoch of the overthrow of Ophiolatreia in Colchos.
14. BRITAIN--GAUL--BRITANY, &c. Changing the country we change only the manner of telling the same story. The destruction of Ophiolatreia in the west and north of Europe, though as complete as in the east, was brought about in a more peaceable manner. In Britain, Gaul, Germany, and Scandinavia, the original worship of the serpent had been much modified by civilization before it was subverted by the missionaries of Christian Rome.
In Britany, however, the idolaters maintained
a more determined opposition: and if we may judge from some of the present superstitions of the peasantry, were never thoroughly converted. The old Zabean policy of gradual conversion was adopted by the first missionaries of the Christian church. Instead of striking a decisive blow at once they deemed it more prudent to wink at a few errors, than by precipitation incur the danger of a total failure. Hence in the vicinity of CARNAC, which may be called the "Trachonitis" of Europe, the oracle of BELUS is to be found in the parish of BELS; the serpent, the universal emblem of consecration, decorates the exterior of some of the oldest churches. The sacred mount of Fire near the avenues of the Dracontium is a consecrated spot: the ancient dance of BAAL, descriptive of the Ophite hierogram is annually exhibited at the carnival of Erdeven: while the peasant still turns his face in prayer to the Kebla of the Ophites--the Serpent's head at Kerzerho--which bears accordingly the expressive name of "the place of the stones of prayer 1."
15. There remains, then, only one portion of
the globe in which we have not accounted for the decline of serpent-worship. But, remarkable as is the coincidence--we find in AMERICA the same agent at work which overthrew Ophiolatreia in Hindûstan, in Persia, in Greece--nay, in almost every country of the known world.
We have remarked the prevalence of serpent worship in PERU: history has preserved the cause of its extinction.
Tupac Yupanqui, the eleventh Inca, marched against the Ophites who resided on the borders of his dominions, with the avowed object of extermination or conversion. His success against two tribes of Indians is recorded in Harris's Collection of Voyages, vol. i. p. 784.
Huayna Capac, the twelfth Inca, in like manner suppressed the Ophiolatreia of the people of Manta 1. It is probable that at one time the worship of the serpent was the general religion of Mexico and Peru. The Mexican hieroglyphics and statues abundantly illustrate this fact: and the popular traditions of the Peruvians respecting Manco Capac relate probably to the first successful missionary of the Sun 2 who
arrived, as the legends state, from a foreign country.
The triumphant children of the Sun could never, however, succeed in abolishing all traces of serpent-worship. Like the rest of the Zabeans in other parts of the world, they were compelled to tolerate what they could not extirpate. Many Ophite superstitions and practices were therefore retained in the religions of Mexico and Peru, as we have seen under the head of Ophiolatreia in those countries.
The victorious sun-worshippers could not even gain the absolute ascendancy over the barbarous people of North America. The High Priest of the Virginians wore, even to the days of Christian conquest, a sacerdotal ornament of snakes' skins upon his head, analogous to the customs of the priests of the Egyptian Isis; while the natives of the country N.W. of Louisiana, (even down to the year 1741) had his body tattooed with the united emblems of the SUN and the SERPENT, and carried in his hand a sacrificial instrument carved with the representation of A SERPENT UPON THE SUN 1!
We have now taken a general and cursory
survey of the causes which produced the decline of serpent-worship: the chief of which appears to have been the uniform hostility of the worshippers of the sun. Whatever this hostility spared, was almost annihilated by the preaching of the early Christians or the sword and the Koran of the inflexible Mohammedans. The Mohammedans in the east, and the Christians in the west, completed what had been begun by the children of Surya, and carried on by the votaries of Crishna or Apollo,--the adventurers of the heroic ages, and the arms of the host of Joshua. So that few and almost imperceptible are the traces now existing of an idolatry which once called the world its own. The subjects of the poetical apostrophe of Lucan,--
"Vos quoque qui cunctis innoxia NUMINA terris
Serpitis aurato nitidi fulgore DRACONES,"
are now coiled obscurely in the woods of the Abyssinian Shangalla, or the almost inaccessible mountains of central Africa, protected only by the impossibility or inutility of the pursuit.
But it is not for us to lament the feeble traces of a superstition which only commemorates the victory of the evil spirit over the soul of the fallen man. Idolatry has been permitted long
enough to prove the divine origin of Christianity; and this point being established, it becomes every believer in the Gospel of Christ, to pray that "the whole earth may be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea;" and that "the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of GOD and of His CHRIST;" and "that they may reign," with the HOLY SPIRIT, in one undivided Godhead, "FOR EVER AND EVER."
415:1 Gen. iv. 17.
415:2 Ib. 20.
415:3 Ib. 21.
416:1 Gen. iv. 22.
416:2 Ib. v. 29.
416:3 Ib. iv. 26.
422:1 Tod's Rajahstan, 535.
424:1 Tod's Rajahstan, 536.
425:1 Kœmpfer Japan, 246.
425:2 Bochart. See also ch. iii. Greece.
426:1 2 Kings xviii. 4.
426:2 See ch. i. Syria.
428:1 Lander's Preface.
428:2 See "Fables," ch. v.
429:1 See ch. vi.
431:1 Tod's Rajahstan, 535.
434:1 These two latter facts were communicated to me by my friend General de Penhouët.
435:1 Garcilasso, lib. ix. c. 8.
435:2 Robertson's America, ii. 293.
436:1 See the Plate.
Next: Chapter VIII. Summary.