« السابقةمتابعة »
is believed to have been the great propagator in the latter country, where it seems to have been universally believed, at least in the first ages of its history. From the sacred priests, the opinion passed through Thales and Pythagoras to Greece and Italy, where, more or less modified, it formed a tenet of all the schools. To Egypt, indeed, may be traced nearly all the doctrines and mythic fables which form the ground-work of classic mythology, as well as the principles on which even the exact sciences of modern times are based.
Very diversified were the opinions entertained of its real character, some regarding it as of the nature of fire, others a kind of air, some an ether—a spirit—the breath, and some as water. In the form of fire it has been immor talized in the history of Prometheus, and his famous story of stealing fire from heaven. Whatever were its nature it was believed to influence the world in the capacity of life and soul, and to be the divine aura, whence a part or particle was infused into every organized being, as the principle of vitality and soul of existence. This universal principle or power, is the nearest approach which seems to have been made to the belief in a Great First Cause of all things.
Thus, under the name of Athor or Athyr, a goddess, we find this principle adored. One of the recent travellers in Egypt mentions that on the roof of the pronaos of the great-temple of Dendera he found “a mythological representation of the birth of the universe from the bosom of Athor, whose outstretched arms appear to embrace the whole expanse of the heavens; from her mouth proceeds the winged globe, (the emblem of the world self-balanced in space,) her womb gives birth to the sun and moon, which diffuse their light and generative influence over the earth, while the other gods with their stellar mansions, mystic symbols, transmigrations, avatars, and earthly representives, are seen moving in order along the firmament, enveloped within the starry robe of this queen of heaven.” In other sacred edifices and parts of the mythology, traces are found of the worship of other deities as the representations of this power, as the god Osiris and his consort Isis ; but the indications of this are less clear.
Having premised the Great First Cause of all things, we come naturally to the second class,—the great natural powers which effect the changes on the world's surface, and the consideration of this subject brings us at once to the mysteries of Sabaism. This adoration, the purest which may well be believed to succeed to the absence of revcaled religion and the forgetfulness of a true God, history makes it exceedingly probable was at one time universally practised in the ancient world. The Chaldean shepherd and the Egyptian sage were the earliest astronomers, and the first who bowed the knee to the host of heaven. Egypt, a country noted for the loveliness of its nights, the great beauty of the moon and the splendour of the stars which sparkled in its unclouded sky, might well be the great supporter of such a system.
But their astronomy soon became astrology, and to each planet was attributed a mystic influence, and to every heavenly body a supernatural agency, and all the stars that gem the sky were supposed to exert an influence over the birth, and life, and destiny of man;
hence arose the casting up of fate, the prayers, the incantations, and sacrifices, and all the superstition and fanaticism that followed in their train ; of which we have some traces even to the present day in those professors of astrology and divination, the gipsies, whose very name links them with the ancient country of such arts.
The first heavenly body worshipped by the Egyptians was the greatest of all—the sun ; and although some of his attributes are symbolized in almost all the gods, there can be no doubt that Osiris was the great and peculiar deification of this luminary, and worshipped as such.
It is not needed to enlarge on how the sun gilds this world of ours with beauty, that without him no flowers would scent the air, or song of birds be heard, or hum of busy bees, that the sky owes her varied tints to him, that unless he shine the deep would never break into a smile, for the very consummation of gloomy desolateness seems summed up in the poet's words,—"a world without a sun.” All this must have been strikingly apparent to the ancient Egyptians: dwelling in a land exposed to the sun's most vertical rays, and clothed in vegetation of characteristic tropical luxuriance. But besides this, the dwellers in the valley of the Nile, patiently watching the river's decline, beheld with astonishment the moist earth on which the sun's rays fell, give birth to innumerable hosts of living creatures, winged insects of all forms and colours, with reptiles of hideous shapes, crocodiles and serpents moving among the green plants and young grass, which the same power called into existence from the bosom of the earth. Reasoning little on the hidden origin of life, they believed the sun to warm into life the very earth itself,—as we believe our common father Adam to have been formed from the dust by the fingers of the Almighty. Thus far then Osiris was the deification of the sun, as the creator of the beautiful and fruitful among the living inhabitants of the earth.
Next to the sun, no power exerts so great influence over the fruitfulness of the earth as moisture, nay, it
may with justice be considered of equal power, for unless heat be accompanied with inoisture, the earth can never be fresh and beautiful. And to the refreshing influence of water Egypt was constantly indebted, for without the Nile it must have been but a portion of the Libyan Desert. Watered, however, as it was by its broad and beautiful river, and fertilized by its annual inundations, it became like a garden of Eden, teeming with life. For these reasons, the Egyptians looked with veneration on the waters of the Nile; and as its mountain sources were wholly unknown then, as to a certain extent they are even at the present day, it was a matter of belief among the lower classes, that it flowed down from the sun itself, by some from the moon, as the Hindoos believe their holy Ganges to descend from heaven. Thus connected with the orb of day, and believed to co-operate with it, in producing the same beneficial results, its attributes were added to those of Osiris, already worshipped as the peculiar deification of the sun; but the name and worship were retained as before. It will be observed, the character of Osiriswhether regarded as the sun, or the Nile, or both collectively-was that of a power always working for the production of good. This principle was carried out still further, and every element or power of nature producing a beneficial result was incorporated with the element already deified, and served to swell the list of the attributes of the deity. Thus the etesian breezes, which, wafted from the Mediterranean, came cool and refreshing over the land, repelling the advances of the fatal sirocco, and assuaging the otherwise intolerable sultriness of the climate, and the rain which occasionally fell, and any other benign influence, were formed into one great power, and seems to have received almost universal adoration from the ancient Egyptians.
We come by an easy and natural transition from the worship of the God of Day to the adoration of the Queen of Night, we should expect the worshippers of the sun,
in any clime, to regard the moon as an object worthy of their devotional regard; but we wonder less at this when we call to mind the unsurpassable liveliness of the moonlight nights of Egypt. A people who were prevented by the warmth of their climate from much active exercise during the day, must have made the evening the season of their promenades, and a bright and beautiful moon, in a clear sky, shining on the deep calm river below, could not fail to make the religious feelings of a people prone to worship and symbolize the powers and elements of nature. The moon accordingly was deified and named Isis, and the images of this goddess were accordingly made with horns in imitation of the lunar crescent, and were attired in sable robes to denote the dimning of her lustre which monthly came round; she was regarded as the sister and wife of Osiris, the sun; and her monthly revolution was conceived to be her flight in pursuit of her liege lord, the sun, and for this reason she was invoked in all affairs of love, but like all the other deities of Egypt, Isiris was not the personification of one power or principle, but of several. Thus she was not only the moon, but also the earth, and, more generally, nature. In all these points of view, however, she was considered as dependent on the sun, and receiving from him that genial and animating influence which gave her life, light, and beauty. The fable of the mutual adventures of Isis and Osiris is famous in mythological story, and formed a very large portion of the sacred traditions of the ancient Egyptian priesthood.
The consideration of these fabulous pilgrimages and events can be referred to with greater propriety after the consideration of some other of the Egyptian gods with whom they are involved.
The deitied principles hitherto considered, are benevo. lent in their character and beneficial to man in the exercise of their powers. Now we come to wholly dissimilar agents, as the elements of nature which work for the good of man, were personified and worshiped by the Egyptians, so also those which bring evil or destroy the comforts of man, or in any way prove injurious to his interests, were raised to divine honours and received adoration.
Thus the salt sea which swallowed up the fertilizing Nile; the sandblast, the dismal simoom which blew from the south and burned up every herb and green thing, and