I. IN the preceding pages we have traced THE WORSHIP OF THE SERPENT from Babylonia, east and west, through Persia, Hindûstan, China, Mexico, Britain, Scandinavia, Italy, Illyricum, Thrace, Greece, Asia Minor, and Phœnicia. Again, we have observed the same idolatry prevailing north and south, through Scythia on the one hand, and Africa on the other. THE WORSHIP OF THE SERPENT WAS, THEREFORE, UNIVERSAL. For not only did the sacred serpent enter into the symbolical and ritual service of every religion which recognised THE SUN; but we even find him in countries where solar worship was altogether unknown--as in Sarmatia, Scandinavia, and the Gold Coast of
Africa. In every known country of the ancient world the serpent formed a prominent feature in the ordinary worship, and made no inconsiderable figure in their Hagiographa, entering alike into legendary and astronomical mythology.
Whence, then, did this ONLY-UNIVERSAL IDOLATRY originate? That it preceded POLYTHEISM, is indicated by the attribution of the title OPS, and the consecration of the symbolical serpent to so many of the heathen deities. The title Ors was conferred upon Terra, Vesta, Rhea, Cybele, Juno, Diana--and even Vulcan is called by Cicero, Opas 1.
In Grecian mythology, the symbolical serpent was sacred to Saturn, Jupiter, Apollo, Bacchus, Mars, Æsculapius, Rhea, Juno, Minerva, Diana, Ceres, and Proserpine--that is, the serpent was a sacred emblem of nearly all the gods and goddesses 2.
The same remark may be extended to the Theogonies of Egypt, Hindûstan, and Mexico--in all of which we find the serpent emblematic, not of one deity, but of many.
What then, is the inference?--That the serpent was the most ancient of the heathen gods; and that as his attributes were multiplied by superstitious devotion, new names were invented to represent the new personifications which, in the progress of time, dividing the unity, destroyed the integrity of the original worship. Yet each of these schismatic superstitions bore some faint trace of its dracontic origin, in retaining the symbolical serpent. Some of these deifications may be easily traced, though others are obscure and difficult.
The mystic serpent entered into the mythology of every nation; consecrated almost every temple; symbolized almost every deity; was imagined in the heavens, stamped upon the earth, and ruled in the realms of everlasting sorrow. His subtilty raised him into an emblem of wisdom; he was therefore pictured upon the aegis of Minerva, and crowned her helmet. The knowledge of futurity which he displayed in Paradise exalted him into a symbol of vaticination; he was therefore oracular, and reigned at Delphi. The "opening of the eyes" of our deluded first parents obtained him an altar in the temple of the god of healing; he is therefore the constant
companion of Æsculapius. In the distribution of his qualities the genius of mythology did not even gloss over his malignant attributes. The fascination with which he intoxicated the souls of the first sinners, depriving them at once of purity and immortality, of the image of God and of the life of angels, was symbolically remembered and fatally celebrated in the orgies of Bacchus, where serpents crowned the heads of the Bacchantes, and the "Poculum Boni Dæmonis" circulated under the auspices of the Ophite hierogram chased upon its rim 1. But the most remarkable remembrance of the power of the paradisiacal serpent is displayed in the position which he retains in Tartarus. A cunodracontic Cerberus guards the gates; serpents are coiled upon the chariot wheels of Proserpine; serpents pave the abyss of torment; and even serpents constitute the caduceus of Mercury, the talisman which he holds when he conveys the soul to Tartarus. The image of the serpent is stamped upon every mythological fable connected with the realms of Pluto. Is it not then probable, that in the universal symbol of heathen
idolatry we recognize the universal object of primitive worship--THE SERPENT OF PARADISE.
But this inference depends not on mere symbolical worship: for we trace the sacred serpent, by the lamp of tradition, through the waters of the deluge to the world which they overwhelmed. In the mythological systems of Hindûstan and Egypt, we find him, as THE CAUSE of that awful calamity, moving in the waters, and troubling the deep: and a Brahminical legend indicates his existence even before that visitation. In the channel of the river Ganges, in the province of Bahar, is a remarkable rock, upon which is sculptured a figure of Veshnu reposing upon a serpent. This serpent is fabled to have been the goddess DEVI or ISI, who assumed the form to carry Veshnu over the deluge. The sleep of Veshnu indicates the period between the two worlds 1. May we not then infer that this legend alludes to the existence of the sacred serpent in the world before the flood? And further, is it not probable, since this sacred serpent is confounded with ISI,
[paragraph continues] (the Isis of Egypt--the Eve of Scripture 1), that the tradition recognises THE SERPENT OF PARADISE?
The only worship which can vie with that of the serpent in antiquity or universality, is the adoration of the SUN. But uniformly with the progress of the solar superstition, has advanced the sacred serpent from Babylon to Peru. If the worship of THE SUN, there-fore, was the first deviation from the truth; the worship of THE SERPENT was one of the first innovations of idolatry. Whatever doubt may exist as to which was the first error, little doubt can arise as to the primitive and antediluvian character of both. For in the earliest heathen records we find them inexplicably interwoven as the first of superstitions. Thus Egyptian mythology informs us, that HELIUS (the sun) was the first of the Egyptian gods; for in early history, kings and gods are generally confounded. But Helius married OPS, the serpent deity! and became father of Osiris, Isis, Typhon, Apollo, and Venus 2: a tradition
which would make the superstitions coeval. This fable being reduced to more simple terms, informs us, that the SUN, having married the SERPENT, became, by this union, the father of Adam and Eve, THE EVIL SPIRIT, the serpent-solar deity, and LUST; which appears to be a confusion of scriptural truths, in which chronological order is sacrificed from the simplification of a fable. But--ex pede Herculem--from the small fragments of the truth which are here combined, we may judge of the original dimensions of the knowledge whose ruins are thus heaped together. We may conclude, that since idolatry, lust, the serpent, and the evil spirit, are here said to have been synchronous with THE FIRST MAN and WOMAN, the whole fable is little more than a mythological version of the events in Paradise.
The first sinners and the first sin are well placed in the same family with the author of all evil: and as, through the serpent, he was introduced into Paradise; and through the serpent, they died, from righteousness, and were born anew in sin,--THE SERPENT may well be allegorically represented as the parent of each.
The reviver of Ophiolatreia, after the flood, must have been one of the family of Noah; for so high can we trace its post-diluvian history. Sanchoniathon tells us, that "SATURN, coming into the south country, gave the whole of Egypt to THE GOD TAAUTUS for his kingdom 1."
Now Taautus was the inventor of post-diluvian Ophiolatreia 2; and since Saturn was Noah, according to every system for the interpretation of mythology, it is historically certain that, during the lifetime of this patriarch, or shortly after his death, THE WORSHIP OF THE SERPENT was revived in Egypt.
But not only in Egypt must we look for its early revival. We have traced it in countries which never could have had intercourse with the kingdom of Taautus, until the voyages of the Phœnicians, or the conquests of the Romans, opened a passage for its mysteries. And then--here, in the remotest regions of the earth--amidst the fastnesses of Wales and the wilds of Wiltshire,--were found a people who adored the same god, symbolized by the same serpent,
and propitiated with the same sacrifice--A HUMAN VICTIM! Who remembered in their mythology the same primeval tradition of THE WOMAN PERSECUTED BY THE MALIGNANT DRAGON; and blended with their fables such records of the Fall of Man as could hardly have been devised by their own invention, irrelative as they are to every other part of their idolatry.
Thus the veneration of the OAK (which did not conduce to any national utility, as they never cut it down,) was totally unconnected with their theological system, and must therefore have been handed down to them by immemorial custom, the meaning of which had been lost in the darkness of ages.
The same adoration of trees, in conjunction with serpent-worship, prevailed in the still darker regions of Sarmatia, and among the infinitely more degraded natives of the coast of Africa. And who can have the hardihood to venture an assertion, that such a superstition was the invention of one polished nation, and conveyed, by their commercial or warlike enterprises, into countries cut off by trackless oceans or immeasurable deserts? Who can assert, with any
hope of making good his hypothesis, that the Egyptian philosopher, or Phœnician merchant, or Assyrian conqueror, instructed in the same worship the grovelling Whidanese, the erratic Sarmatian, or the inaccessible Briton?
The inland progress of the sacred serpent might have been conducted by Chaldæan colonies into some of the neighbouring districts; but in ages when the exploits of a single traveller furnished matter for fables as numerous as they were marvellous, it is not at all likely that a Chaldæan colony would penetrate on the one side beyond the Oural, or on the other beyond the Himaleh mountains, in sufficient force to revolutionize the religion of those regions. And yet in remote China, and secluded Scandinavia, THE SAME SERPENT holds his dominion in the sea, and his reign upon the land! But if to these distant dwellings of the sacred dragon we add his immemorial habitation in Peru and Mexico, the improbability that Ophiolatreia was a Chaldæan invention increases with additional force: and if Chaldæa be deprived of the sceptre of universal proselytism, where is the nation that can contend for the distinction?
With respect to the introduction of Ophiolatreia into Britain, it is historically certain that the Phœnicians were the only people of antiquity who pushed their adventurous barques into these remote latitudes: and although in some particulars the languages and religions coincide, yet we cannot imagine that such a priesthood as THE DRUIDS could have sprung from the slow and solitary vessels which, creeping along the coasts of Africa and Gaul, discharged their ballast upon the desert Cassiterides; and, unconscious of any object but that of accumulating wealth, returned home with the tin ore of those valuable islands. That accidental circumstances, in the lapse of ages, introduced many innovations into the religion of the West, we can readily believe: but to recognize in the Druids, the magi of Chaldea, the philosophers of Egypt, or the Brahmins of Hindûstan, (except inasmuch as they are all probably descended from the original idolatrous priesthood dispersed at Babel,) is a refinement of conjecture which requires more substantial proofs than have hitherto been advanced. Identity of remote origin will satisfactorily account for identity of opinions in countries so separated by land and
sea, without supposing any subsequent intercourse by colonies or navigation.
It appears, then, that no nations were so geographically remote, or so religiously discordant, but that one--and ONLY ONE 1--superstitious characteristic was common to all: that the most civilized and the most barbarous bowed down with the same devotion to the same engrossing deity; and that this deity either was, or was represented by, the same SACRED SERPENT.
It appears also that in most, if not all, the civilized countries where this serpent was worshipped, some fable or tradition which involved his history, directly or indirectly, alluded to THE FALL OF MAN in Paradise, in which THE SERPENT was concerned.
What follows, then, but that the most ancient account respecting the cause and nature of this seduction must be the one from which all the rest are derived which represent the victorious serpent,--victorious over man in a state of innocence, and subduing his soul in a state of sin, into the most abject veneration and adoration of himself.
This account we have in the writings of MOSES,--confessedly the most ancient historical records which exist in the world. The writings of MOSES, therefore, contain the true history; and the serpent of Paradise is the prototype of the serpent of all the superstitions. From his "subtilty" arose the adoption of the serpent as an emblem of "wisdom;" from his revealing the hidden virtue of the forbidden fruit, the use of the same reptile in divination; from his conversation with Eve, the notion that the serpent was oracular: and, after this, the transition from a SYMBOL, a TALISMAN, and an ORACLE, to a GOD, was rapid and imperceptible, and would naturally have taken place even had there been no tradition of the celestial origin of the fallen spirit, who became the serpent-tempter.
II. In reviewing the hopes and traditions of the Gentiles, we find that they not only preserved in their mythological writings a memorial of THE FALL, but also a strong vestige of the promise of REDEMPTION. The "bruising of the serpent" was equally known in the mythologies of Egypt, Hindûstan, Greece, Persia, Scandinavia, and Mexico. In each of these we recognize a TRIUMPHANT GOD, and a VANQUISHED SERPENT. Neither can this, any more than the remembrance of the fall, be a casual coincidence. There is nothing in the belief which would naturally suggest itself to the imaginations of people so remote and so unconnected. In respect of this expectation, therefore, we may similarly conclude, that where so many independent traditions coincide, the most ancient must be the one from which all the rest were originally derived. This will again bring us to the Promise of Redemption, in the curse upon the serpent, as revealed to Adam. But it will do more:--it will teach us IN WHAT LIGHT the first of men who fell, and to whom first it was announced that "the wages of sin is DEATH," looked forward to "the gift of God, which is ETERNAL LIFE, THROUGH JESUS CHRIST,
[paragraph continues] OUR LORD." It will teach us that neither Adam, any more than ourselves, "looked for transitory promises;" that the REDEMPTION, which was the object of his ardent faith, was not temporal, but SPIRITUAL; that the agent of that redemption, in his heaven-directed eye, was not a mere man, heir of his infirmities, his sins, and his mortality, but "GOD MANIFEST IN THE FLESH;" and that, through the sufferings of this JUST ONE, in his conflict with the evil spirit, he expected to "bruise the serpent's head."
That such was the faith of Adam, the faith of all the world declares. For what was this faith in respect of THE VANQUISHED SERPENT, and the TRIUMPHANT GOD?--APOLLO slays Python; HERCULES, the Hesperian dragon; CRISHNA, the king of the Nagas; and THOR, "the serpent which is cast into the sea," But Apollo for his victory is doomed "to depart from the world 1;" Hercules and Crishna are bitten by the serpent; the former in the HEEL! while Thor gains the victory only with his life. Yet Apollo, Hercules, Crishna, and Thor, are all INCARNATE DEITIES!
If, therefore, the legends which represent their triumphs be derived from the promise of
[paragraph continues] Redemption in Paradise, the idea of their INCARNATION must have been derived from the same source. It is evident, therefore, that Adam, or (which is the same thing) Noah, must have considered the promise to imply a Redemption, which would be wrought by the sufferings of "GOD MANIFEST IN THE FLESH."
That Adam "did not look for transitory promises," is further evident from the condition in which he was left by the Fall; which, if not alleviated by some abiding hope, must have accelerated his death by accumulated miseries.
To the serpent God said, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel 1." Darkly as this promise may have conveyed the hope, that a hope of redemption was effectually conveyed by it, we have every reason to believe, from the mere fact that "the days of Adam were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died 2." He died at an age to which he could not, humanly calculating, have arrived, had his life been so wretched as the fall from innocence and the curse of God would have made it, had that fall been irrecoverable, and
that curse irremovable. For when we consider that through this protracted period, he sustained the trials of an "accursed" soil, of children given but to be taken away, of an anxious mind and an afflicted body,--anxiety and affliction being the necessary result of his lapse from innocence; when we consider that his memory, however impaired, was not destroyed, but could carry back his mind to a period of happiness now no longer existing; and that his body, however fresh, and beautiful, and vigorous, must one day "return to the earth as it was;"--we must be assured that he had SOMETHING, beyond his present hopes, to comfort and support him in his pilgrimage upon earth; that he had some well-grounded and abiding faith in another existence, more suitable to the energies, and more consoling to the necessities of the soul. The only comfort which revelation has announced for his support, is the promise contained in the curse upon the serpent; and as it would be the extreme of absurdity to interpret this literally, we must look for a figurative and spiritual interpretation. Such an interpretation has been put upon it by Scripture; but we can arrive at the same conclusion by independent arguments. And as such
a line of reasoning is sometimes admitted by those who will "hear neither Moses nor the prophets," neither Christ nor the evangelists, it may not be irrelevant to the object of the present treatise, as we began with "observations on THE FALL," to conclude with similar remarks on THE REDEMPTION.
442:1 Bryant, i. 61.
442:2 Just. Mart. Apol i. 60.
444:1 See Archæol. vol. 7.
445:1 See "Ophiol. in Hindûstan."
446:1 See "FABLES"--Typon.
446:2 Euseb. Præp. Evang. p. 45, citing Manetho.
448:1 Apud. Euseb. Præp. Ev. p. 39.
452:1 It is but justice to the reader to state that Mr. Faber objects to this exclusiveness which I have attributed to the universality of serpent-worship:--"It formed part of a regular system," he observes, "which system was universal; but serpent-worship was not universal as opposed to hero-worship and Sabianism." My assertion was founded upon the argument, that in some parts of Africa, and in Sarmatia, where the living serpent was the supreme deity, there are no traces of any dæmon-worship or Sabianism. Whereas in every country where the SUN was an object of idolatry, the SERPENT was also venerated as divine.
455:1 Plutarch de def. Orac.
456:1 Gen. iii. 15.
456:2 Gen. v. 5.