BOOK THE FIRST.
THE VEIL OF ISIS;
THE MYSTERIES OF THE DRUIDS.
THERE is no study so saddening, and none so sublime as that of the early
religions of mankind. To trace back the worship of God to its simple origin,
and to mark the gradual process of those degrading superstitions, and unhallowed
rites which darkened, and finally extinguished His presence in the ancient
At first men enjoyed the blessings of nature as children do, without
inquiring into causes. It was sufficient for them that the earth gave them
herbs, that the trees bore them fruit, that the stream quenched their thirst.
They were happy, and every moment though unconsciously they offered a prayer
of gratitude to Him whom as yet they did not know.
And then a system of theology arose amongst them vague and indefinite,
as the waters of the boundless sea. They taught each other that the sun,
and the earth, the moon, and the stars were moved and illumined by a Great
Soul which was the source of all life, which caused the birds to sing,
the brooks to murmur, and the sea to heave. It was a sacred Fire which
shone in the firmament, and in mighty flames. It was a strange Being which
animated the, souls of men, and which when the bodies died, returned to
They silently adored this Great Soul in the beginning, and spoke of
Him with reverence, and sometimes raised their eyes timidly to His glittering
dwelling-place on high.
And soon they learned to pray. When those whom they loved lay dying,
they uttered wild lamentations, and flung their arms despairingly towards
the mysterious Soul; for in times of trouble the human mind so imbecile,
so helpless, clings to something that is stronger than itself.
As yet they worshipped only the sun, the moon, and the stars-and not
as Gods but as visions of that Divine Essence, which alone ruled and pervaded
the earth, the sky, and the sea.
They adored Him kneeling, with their hands clasped, and their eyes raised.
They offered Him no sacrifices, they built Him no temples; they were content
to offer Him their hearts which were full of awe, in His own temple which
was full of grandeur. And it is said that there are yet some barbarous
islands where men have no churches nor ceremonies, and where they worship
God, reflected in the work of His thousand hands.
But they were not long content with this simple service. Prayer which
had first been an inspiration fell into a system, and men already grown
wicked prayed the Deity to give them abundance of wild beast's skins, and
to destroy their enemies.
They ascended eminences, as if hoping that thus being nearer God, He
would prefer their prayers to those of their rivals. Such is the origin
of that superstitious reverence for high places which was universal throughout
the whole of the heathen world.
Then Orpheus was born. And he invented instruments which to his touch
and to his lips, gave forth notes of surpassing sweetness, and with these
melodies he enticed the wondering savages into the recesses of the forest,
and there taught them precepts of obedience to the great Soul, and of loving-kindness
towards each other in harmonious words.
So they devoted groves and forests to the worship of the Deity.
There were men who had watched Orpheus, and who had seen and envied
his power over the herd who surrounded him. They resolved to imitate him,
and having studied these barbarians, they banded together, and called themselves
their priests. Religion -is divine, but its ministers are men. And alas!
sometimes they are demons with the faces and wings of angels.
The simplicity of men, and the cunning of their priests has destroyed
or corrupted all the religions of the world.
These priests taught the people to sacrifice the choicest herbs and
flowers. They taught them formulas of prayer, and bade them make so many
obeisances to the sun, and to worship those flowers which opened their
leaves when he rose, and which closed them as he set.
They composed a language of symbols which was perhaps necessary, since
letters had not been invented, but which perplexed the people and perverted
them from the worship of the one God.
Thus the sun and moon were worshipped as emblems of God, and fire as
an emblem of the sun, water as an emblem of the moon.
The serpent was to be worshipped also as an emblem of wisdom and eternal
youth, since it renews its skin every year, and thus periodically casts
off all symptoms of old age.
And the bull, most vigorous of animals, and whose horns resemble those
of the crescent moon.
The priests observed the avidity with which the barbarians adored these
symbols, and increased them. To worship the visible is a disease of the
soul inherent to all mankind, and the disease which these men could have
healed they pandered to.
It is true that the first generation of men might have looked upon these
merely as the empty symbols of a Divine Being, but it is also certain that
in time the vulgar forgot the God in the emblem, and worshipped that which
their fathers had only honored. Egypt was the fountain-head of these idolatries,
and it was in Egypt that the priests first applied real attributes to the
sun, and to the moon whom they called his wife.
It may perhaps interest you to listen to the first fable of the world.
From the midst of chaos was born Osiris, and at his birth a voice was
heard proclaiming-"The ruler of all the earth is born."
From the same dark and troubled-womb were born Isis the Queen of Light,
and Typhon the Spirit of Darkness.
This Osiris traveled over the whole world, and civilized its inhabitants,
and taught them the art of agriculture. But on his return to Egypt the
jealous Typhon laid a stratagem for him, and in the midst of a banquet
had him shut up in a chest which exactly fitted his body. He was nailed
down in his prison, which cast into the Nile floated down to the sea by
the Taitic mouth, which even in the time of Plutarch was never mentioned
by an Egyptian but with marks of detestation.
When Isis learnt these sad new she cut off a lock of her hair, and put
on her mourning robes, and wandered through the whole country in search
of the chest which contained the dead body of her husband.
At length she learnt that the chest had been carried by the waves to
the shore of Byblos, and had there lodged in the branches of a tamarisk
bush, which quickly shot up and became a large and beautiful tree, growing
round the chest so that it could not be seen.
The king of the country amazed at the vast size the tree had so speedily
acquired, ordered it to be cut down to be hewn into a pillar to support
the roof of his palace-the chest being still concealed in the trunk.
The voice which had spoken from Heaven at the birth of Osiris made known
these things to poor Isis, who went to the shore of Byblos and sat down
silently by a fountain to weep. The damsels of the queen met her and accosted
her, and the queen appointed her to be nurse to her child. And Isis fed
the infant with her finger instead of with her breast, and put him every
night into fire to render him immortal, while transforming herself into
a swallow she hovered round the pillar which was her husband's tomb, and
bemoaned her unhappy fate.
It happened that the queen thus discovered her, and shrieked when she
saw her child surrounded by flames. By that cry she broke the charm and
deprived him of immortality.
By that cry Isis was summoned back to her goddess-form, and stood before
the awe-struck queen shining with light and diffusing sweet fragrances
She cut open the pillar, and took the coffin with her, and opened it
in a desert. There she embraced the cold corpse of Osiris, and wept bitterly.
She returned to Egypt and hid the coffin in a remote place: but Typhon,
hunting by moonlight, chanced to find it, and divided the corpse into fourteen
pieces. Again Isis set out on her weary search throughout the whole land,
sailing over the fenny parts in a boat made of papyrus. She recovered all
the fragments except one which had been thrown into the sea. Each of these
she buried in the place where she found it, which explains why in Egypt
there are so many tombs of Osiris.
And instead of the limb which was lost, she gave the phallus
to the Egyptians-the disgusting worship of which was thence carried into
Italy, into Greece, and into all the countries of the East.
When Isis died, she was buried in a grove near Memphis. Over her grave
was raised a statue covered from head to foot with a black veil. And underneath
was engraved these divine words:
I am all that has been, that is, that shall be, and none among mortals
has yet dared to raise my veil.
Beneath this veil are concealed all the mysteries and learning of the
past. A young scholar, his fingers covered with the dust of venerable folios,
his eyes weary and reddened by nightly toil will now attempt to lift a
corner of this mysterious and sacred covering.
These two Deities, Isis and Osiris were the parents of all the Gods
and Godesses of the Heathens, or were indeed those Gods themselves worshipped
under different names. The fable itself was received into the mythologies
of the Hindoos and the Romans. Sira is said to have mutilated Brahma as
Typhon did Osiris, and Venus to have lamented her slain Adonis, as Isis
wept for her husband-god.
As yet the sun and moon alone were worshipped under these two names.
And as we have seen, besides these twin beneficial spirits, men who had
begun to recognize sin in their hearts had created an Evil One who struggled
with the power of light, and fought with them for the souls of men.
It is natural for man to fabricate something that is worse than himself.
Even in the theology of the American Indians which is the purest of the
modem world, there is found a Mahitou or dark Spirit.
Osiris or the sun was now worshipped throughout the whole world, though
under different names. He wag the Mithra of the Persians, the Brahma of
India, the Baal or Adonis of the Phoenicians, the Apollo of the Greeks,
the Odin Of Scandinavia, the Hu of the Britons, and the Baiwe of the Laplanders.
Isis also received the names of Islene, Ceres, Rhea, Venus, Vesta, Cybele,
Niobe, Melissa--Nehalennia in the North; Isi with the Indians; Puzza among
the Chinese; and Ceridwen among the ancient Britons.
The Egyptians were sublime philosophers who had dictated theology to
the world. And in Chaldcea arose the first astrologers who watched the
heavenly bodies with curiosity as well as with awe, and who made divine
discoveries, and who called themselves The Interpreters of God.
To each star they gave a name, and to each day in the year they gave
And the Greeks and Romans who were poets, wreathed these names into
legends. Each name was a person, each person was a god.
From these stories of the stars originated the angels of the Jews, the
genii of the Arabs, the heroes of the Greeks, and the saints of the Romish
Now corruption grew upon corruption, and superstition flung a black
and hideous veil over the doctrines of religion. A religion is lost as
soon as it loses its simplicity: truth has no mysteries: it is deceit alone
that lurks in obscurity.
Men multiplied God into a thousand names, and created Him always in
their own image. Him, too, whom they had once deemed unworthy of any temple
less noble than the floor of the earth and the vast dome of the sky, they
worshipped in caves, and then in temples which were made of the trunks
of trees rudely sculptured, and ranged in rows to imitate groves, and with
other trunks placed upon them traversely.
Such were the first buildings of worship erected by man from no reverence
for the Deity, but to display that which they doubtless conceived to be
a stupendous effort in art.
It may not be needless to remind some of my readers that a superior
being must view the elegant temples of the Romans, the gorgeous pagodas
of India, and our own Gothic cathedrals with feelings similar to those
with which we contemplate the rude efforts of the early heathens, who deemed
God unworthy of the fruits and flowers which he himself had made, and offered
to him the entrails of beasts, and the hearts of human beings.
We may compare an ancient and fallen religion to the ship of the Argonauts,
which the Greeks desiring to preserve to posterity, repairing in so many
different ways, that at length there did not remain a fragment of that
vessel which had born to Colchis the conqueror of the Golden Fleece.
Let us pass over a lapse of years, and then contemplate the condition
of these nations in whom religion had been first born. We find the Egyptians
adoring the most common of plants, the most contemptible of beasts, the
most hideous of reptiles. The solemnity and pomp of their absurd ceremonies
held them up to the ridicule of the whole world.
Clemens of Alexandria describes one of their temples:--(Pdag. lib.
"The walls shine with gold and silver, and with amber, and sparkle with
the gems of India and Ethiopia: and the recesses are concealed by splendid
curtains. But if you enter the penetralia, and inquire for the image of
God for whose sake the fane was built; one of the Pastophori, or some other
attendant on the temple approaches with a solemn and mysterious face, and
putting aside the veil suffers you to obtain a glimpse of the divinity.
There you behold a snake, a crocodile, or a cat, or some other beast, a
fitter inhabitant of a cavern, or a bog than of a temple."
The priests of Egypt, always impostors, but once so celebrated, had
now degenerated into a race of jugglers.
Also the Chaldans lived upon the fame of their fathers, and upon their
own base trickeries.
The Brachmans or Brahmins, those priests of India, once so virtuous
and so wise-ah! they too had fallen. Once they had forbidden the shedding
of so much as an insects blood: one day in the year alone, at the feast
of Jagam, they were authorized to sacrifice the flesh of a beast, and from
this many had refrained from attending, unable- to conquer their feelings
But now they had learnt from the fierce Scythians and from the Phoenicians
who traded on their coasts to sacrifice the wife upon her husbands pyre--to
appease the gentle Brahmah with the blood of men.
Now the angels who had presided over them became savage demons, who
scourged them on to cruel penances, nay to life-times of suffering and
In the sacred groves where once the Brachman Fathers had taught their
precepts of love, men emaciated, careworn, dying, wandered sadly, waiting
for death as tortured prisoners wait for their liberty.
But worse still, these wicked priests sought through the land for the
most beautiful young women, and trained them to dance in the temples, and
to entice the devotees to their arms with lustful attitudes and languishing
looks, and with their voices which mingled harmoniously with the golden
bells suspended on their feet. They sang hymns to the Gods in public, and
in private enriched the treasuries of the pagoda with their infamous earnings.
Thus a pure and simple religion was debased by the avarice and lewdness
of its priests: till the temples became a den of thieves: till prostitution
sat enthroned upon the altars of the Gods.
Greece and Rome buried in sloth and luxury did not escape the general
contamination. The emblem of generation which Isis had bestowed upon the
Egyptians, and which they had held in abstract reverence, had now obtained
a prominent place in the festivals of these nations as did the Lingam in
those of the Hindoos. It was openly paraded in processions in the streets:
it was worn by Roman nations in bracelets upon their arms.
The sacred festivals and mysteries which they had received from the
Egyptians, and for which the women had been wont to prepare themselves
by continence, and the men by fasting, were now mere vehicles for depravities
of the lowest kind. Men were permitted to join the women in their worship
of Bacchus, of Adonis, of the Bona Dea, and even of Priapus, and so dissolute
did the Dionusia become, that the civil powers were compelled to interfere
with those of religion, and the Bacchanalia were abolished by a decree
of the Roman senate.
And the Jews, the chosen people of God, had not their religion changed?
had not God, weary with their sins, yielded them to captivity, scourged
them with sorrow, menaced them with curses?
They worshipped Baal-peor, the Priapus of Assyria, they sacrificed their
children to Moloch: they had dancing-girls in the holy temple.
I will not go deeper into particulars so degrading to human nature.
I will rather invite you to follow me to a corner of the world where, at
least for many ages religion was preserved in its pristine purity, and
whose priests, through a barbarous soldiery, were received as martyrs in
heaven before they had learned to be knaves upon earth.
It was an isolated spot unknown to the world in the earlier ages of
vice. It is now a kingdom renowned for its power and for its luxuries from
hemisphere to hemisphere.
It was encircled by the blue waters of the German and Atlantic Seas,
and abounded in the choicest gifts of nature.
It was called The White Island from those cliffs which still
frown so coldly upon Gaul, and The Land of Green Hills from its
verdant mountains. Come with me to its shores, and I will show you its
priests in their white robes, and its warriors in the blue paint of war,
and its virgins with their long and glossy yellow hair.
But first I will lead you back into the past, and relate to you why
this land was called Albion, and why Britain.