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The worship of the Greek and Roman was not merely mischievous in its tendency to debauch the manners and the heart. It is further chargeable with the pernicious absurdities of magical incantations. Under the ritual by which it was regulated, gods and ghosts, and demons and demigods, were alike invoked. The shades of the dead, tempted to revisit the earth by the scent of blood, and by the charm of evocation, were required to reveal the destiny of the future, and the will of heaven; and evil and beneficent deities were brought on the scene, by the potency of magic, to accomplish the views of human passions. Of the forms observed on these mysterious occasions, some may have been less criminal than others, but all were absurd. When the more benevolent deities were to be invoked, the mode of address became comparatively inoffensive and guiltless. But evil and malignant powers were to be subdued to the purposes of the priest or the magician, by horrible and terrific incantations. The deepest and darkest caverns were chosen for the celebration of the rites. The ceremony commenced at the hour of midnight. Black victims were offered up. Even children were, sometimes, to perish beneath the sacrificial knife, that their entrails might be consulted and questioned by the minister of the ceremonies; and the whole scene-the officiating priest, armed with the instrument of sacrifice, or solemnly pronouncing the strain of evocation; the dead or expiring bodies with which he was surrounded; the
and caroused in the processions ;" and of ceremonies which "might extort a smile of contempt from any reasonoble man." Deck, and Fall of the Rom. Emp. ch. xviii. The statement is feeble, the censure inadequate.
blood which deluged the floor of the cave; the gloom which rendered every object still more hideous; were in admirable unison with the fearful and unholy rites to be performed, and well calculated to impress the mind with amazement and terror*.
In these evocations, the god, or the demon, was to be called forth by the irresistible energy of certain terms, or by the charm of herbs collected for the occasion, and applied by the priest with mysterious solemnity; and it was always essential to the efficacy of the rite, to observe, with cautious accuracy, the aspect of the stars, the number, the age, and the quality of the victims, and the moment prescribed for the commencement of the evocation. It was difficult, however, to determine what divinities were to be addressed, what offerings to be presented, and what perfumes to stimulate and gratify the celestial or infernal power. A compliment in the slightest degree either too much or too little, in the oblation, was to be equally fatal to the magical process; and, as the breaking of a string destroys the harmony of an instrument, the least omission with respect to any of the Gods, who were the objects of the mystery, was, in the same manner, to mar the efficacy of the whole incantation †.
This pious and minute accuracy was to be scrupulously observed on almost every occasion of Grecian and Roman sacrifice. To every deity some appropriate animal was consecrated for the purpose
* Appendix, Note Z.
+ Jamblichus, in his treatise on the Mysteries, has minutely detailed the forms of these magical incantations. See also Bannier Mytholog. tom. i. pp. 397, 398. Similar practices had prevailed among the Israelites. 2 Kings xxiii, 11, 12. Moses forbade them.
of oblation*. Was an evil power to be appeased? the victim was to be black. Was a beneficent power to be conciliated? the victim was to be white. Was the deity adored, male, female, barren, or fruitful? the victim was to be pregnant, barren, female or male. The strictness of these pious regulations admitted of no deviation. The efficacy of the devotion depended on the form; and the motive of the worshipper was incomparably less important than the mode of the worship.
Thus, in whatever light we contemplate the system of worship adopted by Greece and Italy, we discover errors and absurdities not less gross in the principle, than ludicrous or pernicious in the practice. Such a system, in some of its parts, the rare wisdom of the philosophic legislator might have secretly condemned, though unable to correct it; but the people believed and observed; and the magistracy and the laws justified a creed and a ritual, formed to exercise the mind in a ceaseless round of frivolous or unmeaning ceremonies, or in the observance of rites, of which some could only tend to inflame the ardor of the most licentious of the
To the gloomy Hecate was sacrificed a dog. The smiling Venus demanded a pigeon or a dove. Mars was pleased to accept the furious and warlike bull. Ceres delighted in the blood of the sow. The browzing goat was consistently required by the protecting deity of the vine; and the ruler of the floods craved and obtained the best produce of the toils of the fisherman.
+ One of the most barbarous of the sacrifices of the Greeks was that which was offered to Diana at Sparta; and which, though Lycurgus forbade it, continued to prevail. Plutarch, in Lycurg. acknowledges that he saw several boys whipped to death at the foot of the altar.
In the same manner young girls were often scourged on the altar of Bacchus till they died. See Potter. Antiq. vol. i. lib. ii. p. 258.
passions, and others to corrupt, to harden, and to brutify the heart.
Every thing, indeed, was here calculated for the superstitious bigot, or the wanton voluptuary. On some occasions, the human oblation, to which the dramatist and the historian adverted without comment and without censure, was to soothe the souls of the dead, to appease the indignation of angry gods, or to strike the multitude with religious awe. At other times, the festival was gay, prodigal, wanton, and sumptuous; the officiating priest appeared in all the dignity of his office, and clothed in peculiar and splendid garments; the marble temples, decorated with porticoes and altars, were thrown open to the multitude; the costly sacrifices were accompanied by the most pompous and imposing ceremonies; the genius of the painter, the statuary, and the poet, was exercised to animate the fervour of the worshipper; and meretricious dance, and naked beauty, and inspiring músic, and all the various gaiety of wild and frolicksome procession, were introduced to kindle the zeal of the votary, or foment the passions of the man. Of these pious prodigalities, these proud and expensive rites, and these indecent and disgusting exhibitions, the effect corresponded with the design. A politic superstition was established in the bosom of the people; and religion, by occupying the popular levity and licence, and by alternately exciting the fanaticism, or awakening the illicit passions, of its votaries, became subservient to the rule and government of the state. But that which thus deluded, was, at the same time, to corrupt the virtue of the multitude. There was no sentiment cherished or
* Appendix, Note A. A.
known of a just and sublime devotion. Forms superseded principles. The most erroneous persuasions of Providence and of God issued into a correspondent worship; and that worship, at best, was but a solemn or mischievous mockery, insulting to the nature and attributes of the Supreme Being, and injurious, in its effects, to the moral and intellectual capacity of man.
The worship of the Hindu-Little spirituality-Innumerable forms— Rich oblations to procure the favour of the gods-Human sacrifices-The wife and child tendered to soften the obduracy of heaven- Penances and abstractions-Description of the true devotee-Voluptuous service of the temples--Holy libertinism— Dancing girls-The scandal of the worship-The degradation of the worshipper.
WE have contemplated the perversion of the taste, the reason, and the piety of the Greek, in the extravagant ritual of his religious observances; and we have seen those faculties which, on so many other subjects, appear to have been capable of the noblest efforts and the most exalted attainments, sinking into feebleness and degeneracy when exercised in the detail or in the observance of the indispensable duties of man to God.
The Bramin, in this view, does not surpass the Greek. He boldly asserts the infallible evidences of the inspiration of his creed; and he fearlessly refers to a period, and its attendant circumstances, when the pure and perfect Vedas issued from the lips of the celestial Brama. On the justice of these lofty pretensions it will not be difficult to decide. Someviews have been already opened which have enabled