Architecture, Mysticism and Myth, by W.R. Lethaby, , at sacred-texts.com
'Tales of ages long forgotten
IF we erase from the mind absolutely all that science has laboriously spied out of the actual facts of the material universe, and ask ourselves what would have been the thoughts by which man attempted at first to explain and image forth the natural order, we may put ourselves in sympathy with notions that at first seem absurd. We may see that the progress of science is merely the framing and destruction one by one of a series of hypotheses, and that the early cosmogonies are one in kind with the widest generalisations of science—from certain appearances to frame a theory of explanation, from phenomena to generalise law.
In thus putting ourselves back into the early world, not only must we remember the limitations to the knowledge of phenomena, but also the inadequate means of expression. Not only must we ask ourselves what primitive man—to use the phrase for what it is worth, not letting it betray us—can have observed: we must ask at the same time; what images can he have had before him to which he might
liken the wonder of the sky and the might of the sea? Or rather, these are two phases of the same question by which we may realise the early systems, for in these things at least concepts were immediately linked with words, words which were descriptive comparisons.
The unknown universe could then only be explained in terms of its known parts; the earth, shut in by the night sky, must have been thought of as a living creature, a tree, a tent, a building; and these each form the world system to peoples now living. 'Given the data,' says Herbert Spencer, as known to him, the inference drawn by the primitive man is the reasonable inference.'
A tree with wide over-arching branches must have formed an apt and satisfactory explanation, for legends of a world tree are so widely distributed; we meet with them at the dawn of record, and they still strike their roots where wild in woods' the savage runs.
The Chaldean inscriptions describe such a tree as growing at the centre of the world; its branches of crystal formed the sky and drooped to the sea. The Phœnicians thought the world like a revolving tree, over which was spread a vast tapestry of blue embroidered with stars. Traces of this scheme linger late into times of culture, and would account for a story in 'Apollonios of Tyana' that the people of Sardis doubted if the trees were not created before the earth; an idea exactly parallel to the controversy in the Talmud, as to the priority in creation of the heavens or the earth; one side maintaining that the object was made first and then the pedestal; the other, that the foundation is laid before the building is erected.
All the East knew of such a tree; in Japan the gods broke their swords against it in vain; in Greece its
memory seems long to have survived as the olive of the forest of Colonas.
In the Norse system a vast tree, the world-ash, rises in the centre of the earth, its branches forming the several heavens of the gods, its roots strike deep into hell, and there—
Maori science still represents such a tree as rising to the heavens, 'that dark nocturnal canopy which like a forest spreads its shade,' its mighty growth first forced asunder Heaven and Earth. Such an idea is probably very uniform at a certain early stage of civilisation—'The fundamental conception of these myths,' says Lenormant, which never appear in perfection except under their oldest forms, represents the universe as an enormous tree.' Its trunk transfixes the earth, projecting upwards into heaven and below into the abyss, the heavens revolve on this axis, and may be reached by climbing the stem.
An extract from Dr Tylor's 'Early History of Mankind' will lead us to a later point of view. Man now surrounded by his own works sees in the universe a larger 'tent to dwell in,' a chamber, and ultimately a most elaborate structure, a conception which lasts long even in the direct line of descent of science. This idea it is children find so difficult to shake off—that there must be a brick wall somewhere circumscribing the universe, and we still recognise it in the phrase to 'make the welkin ring.'
'There are,' says Dr Tylor, 'other mythological ways besides the heaven-tree by which, in different parts of the world, it is possible to go up and down between the surface of the ground and the sky or the regions below. . . . Such tales belong to a rude and primitive state of knowledge of the earth's surface,
and what lies above and below it. The earth is a flat plain surrounded by the sea, and the sky forms a roof on which the sun and moon and stars travel. The Polynesians who thought, like so many other people ancient and modern, that the sky descended at the horizon and enclosed the earth, still call foreigners "heaven bursters," as having broken in from another world outside. The sky is to most savages, what it is called in the South American language, "the earth on high," and we can quite understand the thought of some Paraguayans that at death their souls would go up to heaven by the tree which joins earth and sky. There are holes or windows through the sky-roof or firmament where the rain comes through; and if you climb high enough, you can get through and visit the dwellers above, who look and talk and live very much in the same way as the people upon earth. As above the flat earth, so below it, there are regions inhabited by men or manlike creatures, who sometimes come up to the surface, and sometimes are visited by the inhabitants of the upper earth. We live, as it were, upon the ground-floor of a great house, with upper storeys rising one over another above us, and cellars down below.'
This stage of thought lasted so long, embracing the great architectural ages in its span, that one cannot but see that there must have been a relation and reaction between such a world structure and the buildings of man, especially the sacred buildings set apart, as they mostly were, for a worship that thought it found its object in earth, sky, and stars.
It would appear generally that to the great civilising races a square formed universe preceded the hemispherical; indeed, we are much in the hemispherical age at present, it is just archaic enough to furnish the poet with his similes, but an old poet like Job found
his comparisons in the chamber-form, a cubical box with a lid on. In the centre of this vast box whose lid is the sky rises the earth mountain, which is its prop and the pivot of its revolutions. It was seen that the centre of this revolution is at a point within the space guarded by the great bear, and that beyond this the stars dip under the earth of the northern horizon. Thus the earth mountain in the North furnishes a most adequate explanation of the apparent motions of the heavens; the crystal or metal heaven of the fixed stars revolves about it, and consequently the stars are hidden behind it in every revolution. The sun, moon, and planets issuing from a hole at the east, and sinking into another at the west, move overhead and find their way back by a subterranean path. The motive power was sometimes given by active beings, as in the Book of Enoch, or by the winds; thus the universe was like a great mill.
It is likely that the dome was the next step, although as yet they were hard put to it to convey the idea, so a skull or half an eggshell furnished the comparison for the whole canopy of heaven, as in the northern system of the Edda:—
Earth was not formed nor heaven above, a yawning gap there was, but grass nowhere. The earth is made fast in the midst, the sea round about it in a ring. The firmament in the form of a skull was set up over the earth with four sides, and under each corner they set dwarfs. The earth, called Midgard, is round without, and beyond is the deep sea; in the midst of the world was reared Asgard, where Odin is enthroned seeing over the whole world and each man's doings. Without in the deep sea lies the Midgard-worm, tail in mouth. The holiest seat of the gods is at Yggdrasil's ash, its boughs spread over the whole world. Three roots it has, one in
heaven, one in hell, where is Nidhogg, one where before was Yawning-gap, and there is the Spring of Knowledge. A fair hall is there, and from it issue three maidens—Has-been, Being, and Will-be—who shape the lives of men. On the boughs of the ash sits an eagle, wise in much, and between his eyes a hawk, while a squirrel runs up and down the tree bearing words of hate betwixt the eagle and the worm.
The following may serve as a general description of what we may call the chamber type, either square or round, with a ceiling or a dome. The earth is a mountain, and around its base flows the ocean, or it floats on the ocean; beyond is a high range of mountains which form the walls of the enclosure, and on these is either laid the ceiling in one great slab, or it is domed (sometimes the system is a compromise, the earth square, the sky circular, and they do not seem to have realised the difficulty of the pendentives!). The firmament is sustained by the earth mountain in the centre; as in the Esquimaux account given by Dr Rink 'the earth with the sea supported by it, rests upon pillars, and covers an under-world accessible by various entrances from the sea, as well as from mountain clefts. Above the earth an upper world is found, beyond which the blue sky, being of solid consistence, vaults itself like an outer shell, and, as some say, revolves around some high mountain top in the far north.' A man in a boat went 'to the border of ocean, where the sky comes down to meet it.' (H. Spencer, Sociology, I.) Man was created on the mountain top, where it is in contact with heaven, and all earthly vegetation springs from the seeds of the central tree. In the South Pacific, Mr Andrew Lang tells us, the sky is a solid vault of blue stone. In the beginning of things the sky pressed hard on the earth, and the god Ru was
obliged to thrust the two asunder. Ru is now the Atlas of Mangaia, 'The sky-supporting Ru.'
Above the firmament is the Over-sea, and the rain falls from it through perforations; it serves as the floor of the upper regions, and flowing down the firmament, or down the sides of the mountain, supplies earthly seas; the stars are either attached to the firmament or float on this over-sea. There is an amusing story of this celestial sea as late as Gervase of Tilbury. Some people coming out of church were surprised to see an anchor dangling by a rope from the sky, which caught in the tombstones, presently a man was seen descending with the object of detaching it, but as he reached the earth he died as we should if drowned in water.
The Egyptian system would seem to have been of the square type. The Egyptian, says Champollion, 'compared the sky to the ceiling of an edifice;' illustrations which figure the Cosmos in personified forms are frequent on the temples and mummy cases. An example is given by Lenormant (Histoire Ancienne) showing Seb the Earth-Mountain, Tpe the firmament, and Nut the heavenly waters. In the Book of the Dead the soul passes through the gateway of this world into the other, 'the House of Osiris,' and that too was shut in by a wall with a great gateway for the sun at the east to reach our land; the dead had to be ferried over the waters which surrounded the earth, and so the river of death had purely a geographical import in its origin.
Renouf says that 'Ra is addressed as Lord of the great dwelling. The "great dwelling" is the universe, as the Hall of Seb is the earth, the Hall of Nut the heaven, and the Hall of the twofold Maat is the netherworld.'
Water was with them the primordial element in the formation of the universe, of which Maspero gives this
account: 'For the astronomers of Egypt, as for the writer of the first chapter of Genesis, the sky was "fluid" (une masse liquide), and enclosed wholly the earth resting on the solid atmosphere; when the elemental chaos took form, the God Schou raised on high the waters and spread them out in space. It is on this celestial ocean, Nut, that the planets and stars float, the monuments show us them as genii of human or animal form navigating each his bark in the wake of Osiris. There was another widely known conception which presented the stars fixed like suspended lamps to the celestial vault, and they were lighted afresh each night by Divine power to give light to the nights of earth.'
The cosmogonic theories in the Veda have been abstracted by Mr Wallis and summarised in a review in the Academy (November 1887). 'The Rig Vedic hymns disclose three distinct lines of thought in regard to the creation of the world, yielding three separate views as to its construction. The simplest theory is that the building of the world was done very much as the building of a house, by architects and artificers.' 'What, indeed, was the wood? What, too, was that tree,' asks a hymn, 'from which they fashioned the heaven and the earth?' The space was laid out with the measuring rod of Varuna. This measuring-rod was the sun; and hence the measurers of the earth are the solar deities, especially Vishnu, 'who measured the regions of the earth, and made fast the dwelling-places on high, stepping forth the Mighty Strider in three steps.' The edifice had three stories or flats—the earth, the air, and the heavens—the measurement beginning from the front of the structure, or the East. 'Indra measured out as it were a house with measures from the front.' 'The Dawn shone with brilliance and
opened for us the doors;' the doors that 'open high and wide with their frames.' The roofing of the house is referred to in the epithet of the sky as 'beamless or without rafters.' The firmness of the edifice is marvelled at and praised. While the design and general structure are assigned to the greater deities, and especially to Indra as their representative, the woodwork and other details are done by artificer gods. As the first act of the Indian peasant on taking possession of a new house is to bring in sacred fire, so, says Mr Wallis, 'the first act of the gods after the formation of the world was to produce the celestial Agni.'
In the Avesta the sky is said to be 'like a palace built of a heavenly substance firmly established with ends that lie far apart.' The idea of the temple of the sky is common to the classic poets, and becomes the palace or temple of glass of the Romancers.
The early system of Chaldea belongs to the hemispherical class, and it is an interesting fact that modern evidence goes to show that the dome was first known in the Land of the Plain. 'The Turanians of Chaldea represented the earth like a bark inverted and hollow underneath, not one of those oblong boats in use with us, but of a kind entirely round which the reliefs show, and which are still used on the Euphrates. In the interior hollow was concealed the abyss—the place of darkness and of death; upon the convex surface was spread the earth, properly so called, enveloped on all sides by the stream of Ocean. Chaldea was regarded as the centre of the world, and far beyond the Tigris reposed the mountain of the east which united the heavens and the earth. The heavens were in the form of a vast hemisphere, of which the lower rim rested upon the extremity of the terrestrial bark beyond the river of ocean.'
'The firmament was spread out over the earth like a curtain; it turned, as if on a pivot, around the mountain of the east, and carried with it in its never-resting course the fixed stars with which its vault was studded. Between the heavens and the earth circled about the seven planets like large animals full of life; then came the clouds, the winds, the thunder, the rains. The earth rested on the abyss, the sky upon the earth. The early Chaldeans had not yet asked themselves upon what rested the abyss' (Maspero).
It is delightfully appropriate that to the heroic age of Greece a shield (probably circular and convex with a central boss) figured the form of the earth. To Homer the land where appeared the phantoms of the dead is beyond the ocean. We may suppose that this was the lonely shore of the belt of mountains from which the firmament would spring. The abyss is Tartarus, as in Iliad VIII., 'gloomy Tartarus very far from hence (Olympus), where there is a very deep gulf beneath the earth, and iron portals and a brazen threshold as far below Hades as heaven is from earth.' Hesiod is more particular; in nine days would a brazen anvil fall from Heaven to Earth, and nine other days from earth to Tartarus.
Thus the Homeric scheme knew the earth as depicted by the shield of Achilles; it was surrounded by ocean, and was midway between the solid metal heavens and Tartarus, probably, like a disc in a spherical envelope. Many-peaked Olympus, where the gods assembled, is rather the celestial Olympus—the surface of the vault of heaven, than a mere earthly mountain. A good account of this is given in Duncker's 'History of Greece' (I. IX.), on its summit was the 'all-nourishing lake' from which flowed all the waters of the world; the earthly Olympus was but a symbol of the heavenly mount. Anaxagoras taught
that the celestial vault was made of stone. Theophrastus said the milky way was the junction of the two halves of the solid dome so badly joined that the light came through; others said that it was a reflection of the sun's light on the vault of heaven (Flammarion, 'Astronomical Myths').
Later when Phœnician voyagers had explored the Western seas, and a knowledge of India opened up the East, it was evidently felt that the world extended east and west, and with the same climate, while north and south the range was inconsiderable and the climate changing; so that Herodotus says, 'I smile when I see many persons describing the circumference of the earth who have no sound reason to guide them; they describe ocean flowing round the earth, which is made circular as if by a lathe.' Certain, however, that it was planned on some simple geometrical form, the proportion of 2 to 1 was accepted. Mr Charles Elton, writing of the traveller Pytheas of Marseilles 330 B.C., and the extension of the estimate of size necessitated by his voyages, says, 'The world was thought to be twice as long as its own breadth; the total breadth from the spicy regions of Ceylon to the frozen shores of Scythia being taken at about 3400 miles; the length from Cape of St Vincent to the ocean east of India at about 6800 miles.' Pytheas increased the estimate, thus making the world 4700 miles wide, and being compelled by the accepted formula to extend its length to 9400 miles.'
The next step was to accept the spherical theory for the earth as well as for the heavens. We shall find a return to the Middle Ages to the proportion of the double square.
Pythagoras seems to have borrowed the fully-developed Eastern scheme; for the Babylonians had later
arrived at a highly complex and carefully reasoned structure of several heavenly spheres; which apparently were elaborated in this way. The blue heaven of the fixed stars is seen to revolve around the pole at a constant rate, sweeping the whole of the stars with it. But the sun and moon and five other planets do not for long occupy their positions relative to the other bodies; it is seen that they have a motion through the signs proper to themselves from the thirty days of the moon to the thirty years of Saturn, and so the Chaldean astronomers assigned a revolving sphere to each of these: seven concentric spheres revolving at rates proportioned to their distance from the centre on a common axis through the pole star. 'The Chaldean astronomers,' says Lenormant (Magic), 'imagined a spherical heaven completely enveloping the earth; the periodical movements of the planets took place in the lower zone of the heavens underneath the firmament of the fixed stars; astrology afterwards ascribed to them seven concentric and successive spheres. The firmament supported the ocean of the celestial waters.' These seven spheres, forming as many regions above in the heavens or below in the underworld, were distinguished by colours such as Herodotus describes for the walls of Ecbatana of the Medes, 'a symbolism which,' continues Lenormant, 'was borrowed direct from the Babylonian religion—the colours of the seven planetary bodies.' It is necessary that this system should be firmly grasped; it is the perfected structure of astrology which for two thousand years solved the problem of the universe over the whole of civilisation; it is the system embodied in all Mysticism, Astrology, and Arts magic. It was by irresistible analogy that the earth also became a sphere.
In the Western world the scheme attributed to
[paragraph continues] Pythagoras gives in all twelve spheres, which succeed each other in the following order, beginning from the remotest: (1) Sphere of the fixed stars; (2) of Saturn; (3) Jupiter; (4) Mars; (5) Venus; (6) Mercury; (7) Sun; (8) The Moon; (9) Sphere of Fire; (10) Sphere of Air; (11) Sphere of Water; (12) The Earth. 'The early Pythagoreans further conceived that the heavenly bodies, like other moving bodies, emitted a sound; these they supposed made up a harmonious symphony. Hence they established an analogy between the intervals of the seven planets and the musical scale' (Sir G. C. Lewis, 'Astronomy of the Ancients').
The motive power in the Chaldean system was the energy of seven spirits who governed the several spheres; these, as angels of the stars, survived to the Middle Ages, and in their cabbalistic form—Zadkiel, Raphael, and the like—are still familiar to those who put their trust in prophetic almanacks. We shall see what Dante says of the orders of angels.
The most picturesque prospect of these whirling spheres is that in Cicero's vision of Scipio.—'The globular bodies of the stars greatly exceeded the magnitude of the earth, which now to me appeared so small that I was grieved to see our empire contracted as it were into a very point. Which, while I was too eagerly gazing on, Africanus said:—"How long will your attention be fixed upon the earth? Do you not see into what temples you have entered? All things are connected by nine circles, or rather spheres; one of which (which is the outermost) is heaven, and comprehends all the rest, inhabited by the all-powerful God, who binds and controls the others; and in this sphere reside the original principles of those endless revolutions which the planets perform. Within this are contained seven other spheres that turn round backward; that is, in a
contrary direction to that of the heaven. Of these, that planet which on earth you call Saturn occupies one sphere. That shining body which you see next is called Jupiter, and is friendly and salutary to mankind. Next, the lucid one, terrible to the earth, which you call Mars. The sun holds the next place, almost under the middle region; he is the chief, the leader, and the director of the other luminaries; he is the soul and guide of the world, and of such immense bulk, that he illuminates and fills all other objects with his light. He is followed by the orbit of Venus and that of Mercury as attendants, and the Moon rolls in the lowest sphere enlightened by the rays of the sun. Below this there is nothing but what is mortal and transitory, excepting those souls which are given to the human race by the goodness of the gods. Whatever lies above the moon is eternal. For the earth, which is the ninth sphere, and is placed in the centre of the whole system, is immovable, and below all the rest, and all bodies by their natural gravitation tend toward it." Which, as I was gazing at in amazement, I said as I recovered myself, "From whence proceed these sounds so strong and yet so sweet that fill my ears?"' It is the melody of the spheres which human sensibility is too dulled by use to be conscious of hearing.
The distinction of above and below was not lost nor the solidity of the spherical heavens, as seen in this extract from the Astrologer Manilius:—
'Come, then, prepare your mind for learning the Meridians; they are four in number, their position in the firmament is fixed, and they modify the influence of the signs as these speed across them. One is placed where the heaven rises springing up to form its vault, and this one has the first view of the earth from the level. The second is placed facing it on the opposite border of the æther, and from this begins
the falling-away of the firmament and its headlong sweep down to the Nether-world. The third marks the highest part of the heavens aloft, when Phœbus reaches this he is weary, and his horses out of breath; here, then, he rests a moment while he is giving the downward turn to the day and balancing the shadows of noon. The fourth holds the very bottom of all, and has the glory of being the foundation of the round world; on it the stars cease their sinkings and begin their upward course once more; it is equidistant from the setting and the rising.' The flatness of the earth was not necessarily affected in popular view. Strabo finds it necessary to argue that the earth must be of a spherical form, for if it was of an infinite depth it would transfix the planetary spheres and prevent them going round!
This seven-fold system came westward with Latin civilisation, and made the world-scheme for our Saxon forefathers.
From the fragments collected by Cory of the writings attributed to Zoroaster, it would appear that the Persian Universe was fashioned in the like form: 'For the Father congregated the seven firmaments of the world, circumscribing them of a convex figure.' These seven firmaments are conceived of in the old Persian writings as transparent 'mountains,' one without the other.
The ancient Hindus understood the universe to be formed by seven concentric envelopes around the central earth-mountain Meru, on which the waters of the celestial Ganges fell out of heaven, and circling it seven times in its descent, distributed its waters in four great streams to the whole earth. And the Mexicans had nine heavens distinguished by different colours one over the other.
The Arab system is clearly set forth by Lane:—
'According to the common opinion of the Arabs, there are seven heavens, one above another, and seven earths, one beneath another; the earth which we inhabit being the highest of the latter, and next below the lowest heaven. The upper surface of each heaven and of each earth are believed to be nearly plane, and are generally supposed to be circular. Thus is explained a passage of the Koran in which is said that God has created seven heavens and as many earths or storeys of the earth. Traditions differ respecting the fabric of the seven heavens. In the most credible account, according to a celebrated historian, the first is described as formed of emerald; the second of white silver; the third of large white pearls; the fourth of ruby; the fifth of red gold; the sixth of yellow jacinth; and the seventh of shining light. Some assert Paradise to be in the seventh heaven; indeed, I have found this to be the general opinion of my Muslim friends; but the author above quoted proceeds to describe, next above the seventh heaven seven seas of light, then an undefined number of veils or separations of different substances seven of each kind, and then Paradise, which consists of seven stages one above another (these are distinguished by the names of precious gems) canopied by the Throne of the Compassionate. These several regions of Paradise are described in some traditions as forming so many degrees, or stages ascended by steps.'
'The earth is believed by the Arabs to be surrounded by the ocean, which is described as bounded by a chain of mountains called Kaf, which encircles the whole as a ring, and confines and strengthens the entire fabric; these mountains are described as composed of green chrysolite like the green tint of the sky. Mecca, according to some, or Jerusalem, according to others, is exactly in the centre. The
earth is supported by successive creations one beneath the other. The earth is upon water, the water upon the rock, the rock on the back of the bull, the bull on the bed of sand, the sand on the fish, the fish upon a still suffocating wind, the wind on a vale of darkness, the darkness on a mist, and what is beneath the mist is unknown. It is believed that beneath the earth and the seas of darkness is Jahennem, which consists of seven stages, one beneath another.'
Dante himself sums up in that culminating year 1300 of the Middle Ages all lore Classic and Oriental, and in the Convito gives the clearly reasoned system on which he constructs the world scheme of the 'Divine Comedy:'—
'I say, then, that concerning the number of the heavens and their site, different opinions are held by many, although the truth at last may be found. Aristotle believed, following merely the ancient foolishness of the Astrologers, that there might be only eight heavens, of which the last one, and which contained all, might be that where the fixed stars are ('fixed' in the sense of attached) that is the eighth sphere, and that beyond it there could be no other. Ptolemy, then, perceiving that the eighth sphere is moved by many movements, seeing its circle to depart from the right circle, which turns from east to west, constrained by the principles of philosophy, of necessity desires a Primum mobile, a most simple one, supposing another heaven to be outside the heaven of the fixed stars, which might make that revolution from east to west, which I say is completed in twenty-four hours nearly, that is, twenty-three hours, fourteen parts of the fifteen of another, counting roughly. Therefore, according to him, and according to that which is held in Astrology and in Philosophy, since these movements were
seen, there are nine movable heavens, the sight of which is evident and determined, according to an art which is termed Perspective, Arithmetical, and Geometrical, by which and by other sensible appearances it is visibly and reasonably seen, as in the eclipses of the sun it appears sensibly that the moon is below the sun. And by the testimony of Aristotle, who saw with his own eyes, according to what he says in the second book on Heaven and the World, the Moon being new, to enter below Mars, on the side not shining, and Mars to remain concealed so long that he reappeared on the other bright side of the Moon which was towards the west. And the order of the houses is this, that the first that they enumerate is that where the moon is; the second is that where Mercury is; the third is that where Venus is; the fourth is that where the Sun is; the fifth is that where Mars is; the sixth is that where Jupiter is; the seventh is that where Saturn is; the eighth is that of the Stars; the ninth is that which is not visible except by that movement which is mentioned above, which they designate the great crystalline sphere, diaphanous, or rather all transparent. Truly, beyond all these the Catholics place the Empyrean Heaven, which is as much as to say the Heaven of Flame, or rather the Luminous Heaven, and they assign it to be immovable.'
'So, then, gathering together this which is discussed, it seems that there may be ten heavens, and it is to be known that each heaven below the crystalline has two firm poles as to itself; and the ninth has them firm and fixed, and not mutable in any respect. And each one, the ninth even as the others, has a circle which one may term the equator of its own heaven; and this circle has more swiftness in its movement than any other part of its heaven. I say, then, that in proportion as the heaven is nearer to
the equatorial circle, so much the more noble is it in comparison to its poles; since it has more motion and more actuality and more life and more form and more touch from that which is above itself, and consequently has more virtue. . . . It is then to be known, in the first place, that the movers thereof are substances apart from material that is intelligences, which the common people term angels; and of these creatures, as of the heavens, different persons have different ideas, although the truth may be found. There were certain philosophers, of whom Aristotle appears to be one, who only believed these to be so many as there are revolutions in the heavens, and no more; saying that the others would have been eternally in vain, and without operation, which was impossible, inasmuch as their being is their operation. There were others like Plato, a most excellent man, who placed not only so many Intelligences as there are movements in heaven, but even as there species of things, that is, manner of things; as of one species are all mankind, and of another all the gold, and of another all the silver, and so with all; and they are of the opinion that as the Intelligences of the heavens are generators of those movements each after his kind, so these were generators of the other things, each being a type of its species; and Plato calls them Ideas, which is as much as to say, so many universal forms and natures. The Gentiles call them gods and goddesses, although they could not understand these so philosophically as Plato did.'
He continues that as there are nine movable spheres, so are there nine orders of Angels divided into three Hierarchies: 'The first is that of the Angels, the second of the Archangels, the third of the Thrones. Then there are the Dominations; after them the Virtues; then the Principalities. Above
these are the Powers, and the Cherubim, and above all are the Seraphim.'
As an abstract of the early Jewish system, we will condense the substance of the article 'Firmament' in Dr Smith's Bible Dictionary. 'The word translated firmament is the Hebrew word rakia. The verb raka means to expand by beating, and is especially used of beating out metals into thin plates, and it is in this sense that the word is applied to the heaven in Job xxxvii. 18: "Hast thou spread [rather hammered] out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?" The mirrors to which he refers being made of metal. The sense of solidity, therefore, is combined with the ideas of expansion and tenuity. . . . Further, the office of the rakia in the economy of the world demanded strength and substance; it was to serve as a division between the waters above and the waters below, being supported at the edge of the earth's disc by the mountains. In keeping with this view the rakia was provided with windows and doors through which the rain and the snow might descend. A secondary purpose of the rakia was to support the heavenly bodies—sun, moon, and stars—in which they were fixed as nails, and from which, consequently, they might be said to drop off.'
Philo and Josephus state that there was a relation between the design of the Temple and the world; and the early Fathers set forth the scheme with much fulness, as shown by Letronne in the 'Revue des deux Mondes.' Clement of Alexandria is one of these, writing in the beginning of the third century; and Severianus, Bishop of Cabala in Syria, compares the world to a house of which the earth is the ground floor, the lower sky (the firmament) the ceiling, and the over-sky the roof. Dioderus, Bishop of Tarsus,
about the same time compares the world to a two-staged tent. Theophilus of Antioch in the second century sets out a similar view. The light shining as in an enclosed chamber lit up all that was under heaven; a second heaven is to us invisible, after which this heaven we see has been called firmament, and to which half the water was taken up that it might serve for rains, and showers, and dews to mankind; and half the water was left on earth for rivers, and fountains, and seas. In the 'Recognitions of Clement,' there is an account of the creation. 'In the beginning when God had made the heaven and the earth as one house, the shadow which was cast by the mundane bodies involved in darkness those things which were enclosed in it,' i.e. the world before the sun was a camera obscura, 'then at length light is appointed for the day and darkness for the night. And now the water which was within the world, in the middle space of that first heaven and earth, congealed as if by frost, and solid as crystal, is distended; and the middle spaces of the heaven and earth are separated as by a firmament of this sort; and that firmament the Creator called heaven, so called by the name of that previously made; and so He divided into two portions that fabric of the universe although it was only one house!' The waters that remained below flowed away to the abyss exposing the land. And so all things were prepared for the men who were to dwell in it.
The next writer claims also to follow the teaching of an Eastern bishop as to the world fabric, and reverts to the symbolism of the Tabernacle. This is Cosmas, a merchant of Alexandria and traveller into India and the far East, in the first half of the sixth century, who wrote a treatise on the subject.
[paragraph continues] In this work, 'Christian Topography,' he attempted to demonstrate that it was necessary for all Christians to believe the universe to be of the form of a travelling trunk with a rounded lid; the tabernacle of Moses being its true image, the whole enclosing the sun, moon, and stars in a sort of immense coffer of oblong form, of which the upper part forms a double ceiling. He thinks the Babylonians were led away to believe in the spherical form of the earth after the building of the tower of Babel, but he demolishes 'very easily all these fables for the figure and composition of the universe.'
'God in creating the world supported it on nothing; according to the word of Job, "He has suspended the earth in the void." God therefore having created the earth, united the extremity of the sky to the extremity of the earth, supporting the firmament on four sides by the sky, as a wall which raised itself aloft, forming so a sort of house entirely enclosed, or a long vaulted chamber; for, as saith the Prophet Isaiah, "He has disposed the heavens in form of a vault;" and Job speaks thus of the earth and the heavens: "He has spread out the sky which is strong, and like a molten looking glass. Whereupon are the foundations thereof fashioned? Or who laid the corner stone thereof?" How can such words be applied to a sphere? Moses, speaking of the Tabernacle—that is, the image of the world—says that it was twice as long as wide. We say, therefore, with the Prophet Isaiah, that the form of the heavens that embraces the universe is that of a vault, with Job that it was joined to the earth, and with Moses that the earth is more long than large. The second day of creation God made a second sky, that which we see, like in appearance, but not in reality, to the first; this second sky is placed in the midst of the space which separates the earth from the outer heavens,
and it extends like a second roof or ceiling all over the earth, dividing in two the waters, those that are above the firmament from those below on the earth, and so of one house was two made, the one above, the other below. The length of the earth is from east to west, the sea we call ocean divides the part we inhabit from that beyond, to which is joined the sky.'
Some drawings, given in Charton's 'Voyageurs Anciens,' accompany the original manuscript. The earth rises like a mountain, around which circle the sun and moon, alternately hidden and revealed; at the base is the ocean, and beyond are the mountains which take the vertical sides of the sky; from the lateral walls rises a semicircular barrel vault, at the spring of which is the flat firmament supporting the waters like a floor.
He then considers the Tabernacle in detail. The candlestick represented the seven planets, the veil with its tissue of hyacinth, purple, scarlet, and fine linen, recalled the elements, and divided the outer temple from the sanctuary, as the earth is divided from the heavens.
'Thus,' says Cosmas, 'were all the phenomena of the universe represented in the Tabernacle.'