The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
The ancient speculations cited in the preceding chapter are all baseless theories, due to the ingenious refinements of the Alexandrian literati, and springing out of the system of allegorical interpretation in which the New Platonists so much delighted. It is evident that upon his first introduction into Egypt, Serapis was regarded by the Alexandrians as identical with Aïdoneus, or Dis, the Lord of the Lower World. Now, all his attributes suggest him to have been of Indian origin, and no other than Yama, "Lord of Hell," attended by his dog "Çarbara," the spotted, who has the epithet "Triçira," three-headed, and by his serpent "Çesha," called "Regent of Hades;" in fact, some have discovered in the name Serapis * but the Grecian form of Yama's epithet, "Sraddha-deva," Lord of the obsequies, that is, of the funeral sacrifices offered to the Pitris or Manes. Yama also is styled "Lord of souls," and "Judge of the dead;" another office assimilating him to Serapis in the character under which the latter came to be specially regarded--a point, moreover, which at a later date afforded stronger reasons for identifying him with Christ. A plausible etymology of the name Serapis may be found in another of Yama's epithets, "Asrik-pa" the Blood-drinker. This explanation is confirmed to some extent by the ancient tradition, of which Homer makes such fine use when he describes Ulysses' mode of evoking the ghosts, and their eagerness to lap up the life-blood of the victim (Od. xi. 35):--
[paragraph continues] And connected with the same notion was the practice of strewing roses over the graves of departed friends--
for (as Servius explains it) the red colour of the flower
represented blood, and thereby served as a substitute for the living victim. *
This analogy between Yama and Serapis may be further extended by the consideration of certain other points connected with the office of the former deity. For example, unto the souls of the righteous he appears as "Dharma-rāja," and has a servant "Karma-la" (the Hermes Psychopompos of the Greeks), who brings them into his presence upon a self-moving car. But unto the wicked he is "Yama," and has for them another minister, "Kash-Mala," who drags them before him with halters round their necks, over rough and stony places. Other titles of Yama are "Kritānta" and "Mrityu." The connection of the latter with Mors is evident enough, making it a fitting appellation for Dis (Ditis), in which again unmistakably lies the root of our name Death, applied to the same Principle of Destruction.
Yama as "Sraddha-deva," monarch of "Pātāla" (the infernal regions), has for consort Bhavani, who hence takes the title of "Patala-devi," as upon Earth she is "Bhu-devi," in heaven, "Swardevi." Her lord owns, besides Çarbara, another dog named "Çyama," the Black One (now we see wherefore the mediæval familiar spirits like Cornelius Agrippa's black spaniel, and Faustus’ "pudel" chose that particular figure), whom he employs as the minister of his vengeance. As Judge of Souls he displays two faces, the one benign, the other terrific. Another of his titles is "Kalantika," Time as the Destroyer: it can hardly be a mere accidental coincidence that such was the exact name given to the head-dress worn by the Egyptian priests when officiating--in later times a purple cloth covering the head, and falling down upon the neck, surmounted by two plumes.
"Kali-Bhavani," the Destructive Female Principle is represented * in this character with a visage exactly identical with the most ancient type of the Grecian Gorgon--such as we still behold it guarding the Etruscan sepulchres, and lowering horrifically upon the sacrilegious intruder; as in that notable example in the tomb of the Volumni at Perugia, where it forms the centrepiece of the ceiling of the grand hall. Formed of a Tiger's head in its first conception by the excited fancy of Hindoo superstition, the Etruscan demon still exhibits the same protruded tongue, huge tusks, glaring eyes, wings in the hair, and serpents twining about the throat. Of such aspect was doubtless that "Gorgon's Head, the work of the Cyclops," which was shown to Pausanias as the most notable object in the Argive Acropolis--a proof that the earliest essays of Pelasgic art had been made in realising this idea. Again, in that most ancient monument of Grecian art, the Coffer of Cypselus (made before B.C. 600), the same traveller states (v. 19.), "Behind Polynices stands a female figure, having tusks as savage as those of a wild beast, and the nails of her fingers like unto talons: the inscription above her, they tell you means Κῆρ (Fate)." This name therefore must have been a foreign word, translated to Pausanias by the Custodian of the Temple. Plutarch (Life of Aratus) supplies another singular illustration of the Worship of these terrific idols of the olden time in the most polished ages of Greece. The Artemis of Pellene was of so dreadful an aspect that none dared to look upon her: and when carried in procession, her sight blasted the very tree and crops as she passed. When the Ætolians were actually in possession of and plundering the town, her priestess, by bringing this image out from the shrine, struck them with such terror that they made a precipitate retreat. This Artemis consequently must have been a veritable Hecate, a true Queen of Hell, an idol moreover of wood, ξόανον (like her of Ephesus), otherwise the priestess had not been able to wield it so effectually to scare away the marauders. Again, the recorded dream of Cimon, which presaged his death, was that a black bitch bayed
at him in a half-human voice, "Come to me; I and my whelps will receive thee gladly." The Hellenic gods, now and then shew themselves under an aspect strangely at variance with their usual benevolent and jovial character. A true Siva was that "Dionysos Omestes" (The Cannibal), unto whom Themistocles, forced by the Diviners, sacrificed the three sons of Sandauce, own sister to Xerxes, when taken prisoners on the eve of the Battle of Salamis. It must be remembered that tradition made Perseus bring back the Gorgon's Head, trophy of his success, from Ethiopia, a synonym at first for the remotest East--it being only in Roman times that "Ethiopia" was restricted to a single province of Africa. The harpe too, the weapon lent to the hero by Hermes, is from its form no other than the ankuşa, elephant-hook, which is carried for attribute by so many of the Hindoo Deities. * Sufficient explanation this why Persephone (Destroying-slayer) was assigned by the earliest Greeks as Consort to Aidoneus; and also why Ulysses, on his visit to her realms, should have been alarmed,
From the influence of this terror upon the otherwise undaunted wanderer, these same two lines came to be considered as endued with a wonderfully strong repellent power, for Marcellus Empiricus prescribes them to be whispered into the ear of any one choking from a bone or other matter sticking in his throat; or else to write them out on a paper to be tied around his throat, "Which will be equally effectual."
Lucian remarks ('Philopatris,') that the reason why the ancient warriors bore the Gorgon's Head upon their shields was because it served for an amulet against dangers of every sort; on the same account, in all likelihood, was it put for device on many archaic coinages; Populonia, Paros, &c. For
what could be more effective for the purpose of scaring away all evil spirits than the visible countenance of the Queen of Hell? Timomachus the painter (contemporary with the first Cæsar) made his reputation by such a subject, "præcipue tamen ars ei favisse in Gorgone visa est," are the words of Pliny, which masterpiece is supposed the original of the horrific fresco discovered at Pompeii, the finest example of the art that has reached our times. Many centuries after the fall of Paganism did this image retain its power; Münter figures ('Sinnbilder der Christen') a Gorgon's Head surrounded by the phonetic legend, + VΟΜΕΛΑΙΝΗΜΕΛΑΙΝΟΜΕΝΑΟCΟΦΙCΗΛΗΕCΕΚΕΟCΛΕΟΝΒΡVΧΗCΕΙΚΕΟCΑΡΝΟCΚVΜΗCΗ, intended for--Υἱὸς Θεοῦ · Μελαίνη μελαινομένη, ὡσ ὄφις εἴλει ἡσυχῇ, ὡς λέων βρυχήσει, καὶ ὡς ἄρνος κοιμήσει. "Black, blackened one, as a serpent thou coilest thyself quietly, thou shalt roar like a lion, thou shalt go to sleep like a lamb!" The same inscription, but so barbarously spelt as to be unintelligible, probably forms the legend upon the famous Seal of St. Servatius, preserved in Maestricht Cathedral. The seal is a large disc of green jasper, engraved on both sides, and is attached to a small slab of porphyry, traditionally passing for the Saint's portable altar. Servatius died A.D. 389, but the workmanship of his seal betokens the tenth or eleventh century for its origin. An important evidence of the veneration of the Christian Byzantines for their guardian demon is afforded by the exhumation (Spring of 1869) in the Ahmedan, Constantinople, of the Colossal Gorgonion, six feet high from chin to brow, carved in almost full relief on each side of an immense marble block, which once formed the keystone of the gateway to the Forum of Constantine. Though the execution betrays the paralysis of the Decline, yet the general effect still remains grandiose and awe-inspiring.
Having thus traced Bhavani in her progress from Archaic Greek to Byzantine times, let us observe the part she plays in the superstitions of Imperial Rome. The idea, full of novel horrors, was gladly seized by the extravagant genius of Lucan *
to animate the exorcisms of his Thessalian sorceress Erictho (Pharsalia, vi. 695).
All these personifications are in a spirit quite foreign to that of Grecian mythology, but thoroughly imbued with that of India. Lucan's Chaos is the Hindoo Destroyer, the Negro giant, "Maha-Pralaya," swallowing up the gods themselves in his wide-gaping jaws. His "Rector terrae" pining for the promised annihilation that is so long in coming, finds no parallel in classical
religions, * and his character remains to me utterly inexplicable. His Furies "hunting souls to make them fly," instead of being like the old awful Eumenides, the impartial avengers of guilt, are mere demons, or churchyard ghouls. But his Hecate is manifestly Bhavani herself; her "facies Erebi" being the Gorgonian aspect which the latter was when reigning in "Yama-putri," but which she puts off when presiding on earth, or in heaven; whilst the "infernal banquets" that so enchant her are the human sacrifices regularly offered up by Bhavani's special votaries, the Thugs. In the first, or infernal aspect, a true "facies Erebi," she is depicted wearing a necklace of human skulls and grasping in each hand a naked victim ready to be devoured. She probably still shows us in what shape the Artemis of Pallene appeared to scare away the Ætolian plunderers. The title of her lord "pessimus mundi arbiter" is far more applicable to the Destroyer Siva than to the inoffensive Pluto of the Greeks. Unless indeed the Neronean poet may have heard something of the Demiurgus Ildabaoth, "Son of Darkness, or Erebus," existing under a different name in some ancient theogony. The Gnostics did not invent--they merely borrowed and applied.
Bhavani, in her character of "Kali," is sculptured as a terminal figure, the exact counterpart in outline of the Ephesian Diana. Even the stags, those remarkable adjuncts to the shoulders of the latter, are seen in a similar position springing from Kali's hands. The multiplied breasts of the Ephesian statue were also given to the Alexandrian Isis, who is allowed by Creuzer and the rest to be the Hindoo goddess in her character of "Parvati." Now this remark applies only to her statue in the Serapeum, not to those belonging to the ancient Pharaonic religion; and Macrobius's expressions show that her real character there was as much a matter of dispute as that of her companion, Serapis. Again, Diana as Hecate or Proserpine, belongs to the infernal world over which she rules with the same authority as Bhavani over Yama-Putri. The Ephesian
image, made of cypress wood, had "fallen down from heaven," which only means, had come from some very remote and unknown source.
165:* It is not improbable that the name under which the god was worshipped at Sinope had something of this sound; and which suggested to Manetho the idea of identifying him with his own Oser-Api.
166:* One of the most frequented places of pilgrimage at Benares is the "Gyan Bapi," "Well of Knowledge," in the depths whereof Siva himself resides. It was dug by the genius Rishi, with that god's own trident, to relieve the world after a twelve years’ drought. The pilgrims throw into it offerings of all kinds, flowers included. Another well in the same city, of supreme efficacy for the washing away of all sin, is the Manikarnika, so called from the earring of Mahadeva, which fell into it. Vishnu had dug this well with his changra, quoit, and filled it with the luminous sweat of his body.
167:* Roth. 'Zeitschrift der Morgenländischen Gesellschaft,' iv. p. 425, and Mure in Royal Asiatic Society's Journal, i. p. 287.
168:* The Gorgon of the gems ('Ant. Gems,' Pl. XX., 4), and of the coin of Neapolis is regularly to be seen, to this day, sculptured in relief upon the pillar set up on each side of the gates of Hindoo temples, as I am informed by our great oriental archæologist, Col. Pearse. She goes by the name of "Keeper of the Gate." Now we see why her head decorated the pediments of temples in Greece and Rome, and formed the keystone of triumphal arches even in the time of Constantine, as the lately-discovered entrance to his "Forum of Taurus" convincingly attests.
169:* Who had in all probability learnt them at some of the Mysteries, all of Asiatic origin, so popular in his times with all persons making pretensions to the title of philosophers.
171:* Unless, perhaps, obscurely shadowed forth by Hesiod, from whom Milton drew his grand picture of Chaos, on whom wait--