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Not only were divine honors paid to the larger bodies in the universe, and to human beings, both living and dead, but to whatever was found to be of great utility.* To these we may add particular qualities and conditions of human beings, such as Mind, Fidelity, Safety, Liberty, Concord, Victory, &c. These things, says Cicero, are so great, that they cannot be governed without divine agency, and therefore they themselves are denominated gods. To these, temples were erected, and sacrifices were offered. Nay, even bad qualities, such as passions and vices, became objects of heathen worship; in justification of which, this reason is assigned, that these bad qualities have frequently great inftuence on human actions.
That animals, reptiles, and vegetables, received, among the Egyptians, religious adoration, is a fact, universally known. It is, indeed, difficult to contemplate any object, either in the heavens, or on the earth, which has not, in some age or country, been treated as divine. Accordingly an eminent author, whose object was to praise the religion of the heathen at the expense of revelation, is constrained to acknowledge, that " the gentiles did not only worship the whole world taken together, but its parts, yea, even its particular, or smaller parts; thinking it unbecoming, that some of the most eminent parts of him whom they regarded as God, should be worshipped, and other parts neglected."+ So true is the remark, that the heathen worshipped every thing, as God, but God himself.
But though there was no great variety in the objects, to which the ancient heathen paid religious adoration, the worship of departed spirits was a part of their religion, particularly important, both as to its extent, and the effects resulting from it. Mr. Farmer whose name was mentioned in the last lecture, has shown, that human spirits were with a very few exceptions, worshipped in all ancient nations,
De Nat. Deor. I. 86.
L. Herbert, as quoted by Leland. 1. 146.
+ Ib. 87.
In Ethiopia, they worshipped their friends immediately after their death, Herod. 2, 30.
whether barbarous or polished. It is obvious, that this would be a very interesting part of human worship. Men would be pleased at the thought of having a Deity, who had been in their situation, had possessed their passions, and had experienced their wants. But the moral effect of this worship would depend on the character, ascribed to the being, to whom it was addressed. The worship of human spirits, however absurd, might not, in all cases, produce immorality. Had the pagan deities been perfect in moral qualities, or even as near perfection as have been some distinguished saints, such as Moses or Daniel,the ancient mythology would have been far less offensive and less injurious, than it must have been, on supposition, that their gods had not only been men, but men distinguished for impurity, violence, fraud, revenge, and rapacity.
If the objects of pagan worship, therefore, as Euhemerus is said to have shown, and as the Greeks acknowledged, were once men, it becomes important to inquire what kind of men they were. Were they mild, chaste, upright, meek, benevolent, and pious? Here, in proposing a seemingly rational question, and one, which very naturally occurs, we are involved in absurdity. How could those men, who have since become gods, (gods who were once men,) have been pious? Piety, as the term is now used, has relation to a Supreme Being, and expresses right feelings towards him. But at the time, when the greatest gods among the heathen were men, there could have been no Supreme Being; i. e. no being entitled to the affection, confidence, and adoration of mortals. Those heathen, who believed, that their greatest gods had once been men, must from the nature of the case, have considered them, as men destitute of piety.
But passing over this most important quality, let us briefly inquire what was, in other respects, the character of the pagan gods. Saturn is known to have been jealous, ferocious, and cruel. It is not easy to read without a mixture of disgust and indignation, the biography of this god, as transmitted to us by the poets.
Jupiter's character was doubtless an improvement on that of his father. His government was less oppressive, and his temper less ferocious and savage. But his impurities were more numerous, and not less disgusting.
Mercury, according to poetical mythology, was received into the confidence of the gods for no other reason, than his shrewdness, evinced by repeated acts of dishonesty. Af ter being admitted to the rank and honors of a deity, Jupiter appointed him his cup bearer, and employed him as the accomplice of his crimes. No description need be given of the character of Bacchus and Venus. The mention of their names, to those, whose attention has been in any degree, directed to classical studies, will bring to recollection their moral qualities.
Now, these were among the most common objects of gentile worship. To the honor of these deities, statues and temples were erected. It is natural to suppose, that the service, whether moral or ritual, which was rendered to such gods, would correspond with those moral qualities, for which they had been most distinguished. We should not expect, cither, that the kind of worship, rendered to such deities, would contribute to purity of life, or that such purity would be cultivated by their votaries. In regard to both these particulars, facts are precisely, as we should anticipate.*
The worship of the ancient heathen was a horrible mixture of folly lasciviousness, and cruelty.
Nothing could be more ridiculous than many of their rites; nothing more absurd, than the manner in which they sometimes treated their gods. The Abbe Barthelemy, quotiny Theocritus, puts the following words into the mouth of Anacharsis. Having reached the top of mount Lycæus, in Pelopennesus, we were present at some games, celebrated in honor of the god Pan. We saw some, who struck the statue of the god with whips. They inflcted this punishment on him, because a hunting, undertaken under his au
+Anach. III. 35.
*Leord. i. 174, tells of the debauchery of the Egyptian worship. See also the absurdity.
spices, had not been sufficiently successful to furnish them with a meal. Trav. Anach. iii. 68.
The festivals in honor of Bacchus, called Dionysia, were celebrated over all Greece, especially at Athens. This festival, it appears, was considered, as peculiarly respectable and sacred. By the return of it were the years numbered. The chief archon had a part in the management of it; and the priests, who officiated on this occasion, were honored with the first seats at the public shows. Whatever these festivals were, therefore, they are not to be considered, as exhibiting the character of a few extravagant profligates, but that of every nation or community, into which they were received.
These Bacchanalia, or Dionysia, were, it seems, of different kinds, such as the greater, the less, &c. In some of them, it was usual for the worshippers, in their garments and actions, to imitate the poetical fictions concerning Bacchus ; they put on fawn skins, fine linen, and mitres; carried thyrsi, drums, pipes, and flutes; and crowned themselves with garlands of trees, sacred to the god. Some exposed themselves by uncouth dresses, and antic motions. In this manner, persons of both sexes ran about the hills, deserts and other places, wagging their heads, dancing in ridiculous postures, filling the air with hideous noises, and personating men distracted. Nothing could exceed the sensuality, which was allowed on this occasion; revelling and drunkenness were part of the worship, to which they were obliged, in honor of the god.
These impure and infamous celebrations were introduced from Greece into Tuscany, and thence to Rome. At this latter place, the impure actions and indulgences, which accompanied them, became so intolerable, as to call for the interference of the Senate.* The festival was, for a while, suppressed, but was afterwards re-established.
The Floralia, or games in honor of Flora, are metioned
*Livy xxxix. 13 &c.
by Paterculus, and described by Lactantius.* The goddess, in whose honor these games were instituted, according to the last mentioned writer, amassed, while a mortal, a large estate, by a life of abandoned profligacy. This estate she bequeathed, at death, to the Roman people. They, in their turn, instituted an annual festival to her honor. What kind of rites would be practised at the annual celebration of such a character, may be sufficiently known, without reading the accounts, transmitted to us from this eloquent father.
Nocturnal festivals in honor of Kotytis, the goddess of lewdness, mentioned by Juvenal, were observed, says Apb. Potter, by the Athenians, Corinthians, Chians, Thracians, and others. Sat. ii. 91. line. Potter. i. 440.
The impurities, practised at the Lupercalia, in the worship of Cybele, and in the temples of Venus, at Crete, Corinth, and Babylon, need not, and ought not to be mentioned.
But we are not to suppose, that the ancient heathen worship tended to corrupt, in one particular only, those, who engaged in it. Impurity was not the only crime, of which their gods had been guilty; and of course, not the only vice, which their votaries would learn from them.
The dishonesty of Mercury has been mentioned in this lecture. The annual festival of this deity was celebrated at Rome on the fifteenth of May. On which occasion, the merchants, traders, &c. after performing certain ceremonies, prayed, that the god would both blot out all the frauds and perjuries, which they had committed already, and enable them again to practise like impositions. Pantheon, Bell.
Casting but a slight glance on the pagan religion, we are likely to consider it, as exclusively gay, and festive. Increased attention will lead to a different conclusion. It was, in many parts, gay and grossly licentious; but in other parts, it was cruel, ferocious, and unrelenting.
A solemnity, called Diamastigosis, was observed at Sparta, in honor of Diana. The name is derived from the scour