The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
Innumerable are the statues, bas-reliefs, and gems, many of them in the best style of Roman art, emanating from the worship of Serapis; a thing not to be wondered at in the case of a divinity whose idea involved the two strongest principles that actuate the conduct of mankind--the love of riches and the fear of death. For the god of the subterranean world was necessarily lord also of its treasures; a truth expressed by the dedication to Serapis of an altar as "Iovi custodi et genio thesaurorum" (Winckelmann, 'Pierres Gravées de Stosch,' p. 83). And similarly the older Roman Pluto takes the title of "Jupiter Stygius;" but the comprehensiveness of the idea as expanded by the monotheistic tendency of later times is most fully manifested by the invocation (Raspe, No. 1490) ΕΙC ΖΕΥC CΑΡΑΠΙC ΑΓΙΟΝ ΟΝΟΜΑ CΑΒΑΩ ΦΩC ΑΝΑΟΤΛΗ ΧΘΩΝ "One Jupiter, Serapis, Holy Name, Sabaoth, the Light, the Day-spring, the Earth!"
Talismanic gems very commonly bear the full length figure, or the bust of Serapis, with the legend ΕΙC ΘΕΟC CΑΡΑΠΙC (often abbreviated into Ε · Θ · C), "There is but one God, and he is Serapis: "ΕΙC ΖΩΝ ΘΕΟC, "The One Living God." Sometimes the purpose of the amulet is distinctly expressed by the inscription, ΝΙΚΑΟ CΑΡΑΠΙC ΤΟΝ ΦΘΟΝΟΝ, "Baffle the Evil-eye, O Serapis:" or in the curious example published by Caylus, where the god stands between Venus and Horus, and the legend ΚΑΤΑ ΧΡΗΜΑΤΙCΜΟΝ intimates that the gem had been "so" engraved in consequence of a vision or other divine intimation. Around his bust on a jasper (Praun) appears the invocation, convincing proof of his supposed supremacy, ΦΥΛΑCCΕ ΔΙΑ, "Protect Jupiter," the ancient king of heaven being now degraded to the rank of an astral genius and benignant horoscope. Invocations like the
above bear the unmistakable stamp of the age when the old, liberal, mythology of the West, which had pictured Heaven as a well-ordered monarchy peopled by innumerable deities, each one having his own proper and undisputed position therein, was fast giving place to the gloomy superstitions of Syria, which made the tutelary divinity of each nation or sect the sole god of Heaven, condemning those of all other races as mere deceivers and evil spirits.
There are, however, many gems, fine both as to material and workmanship, which give us, besides Serapis, the primitive Egyptian gods exactly as they appear in the most ancient monuments, but engraved in the unmistakable style of Roman art. Most of these are to be referred to the efforts of Hadrian to resuscitate the forms of that old religion whose life had long before passed away in this equally with the grander department of sculpture. Under his zealous patronage, the religion of the Pharaohs blazed up for a moment with a brilliant but factitious lustre, a phenomenon often observed to precede the extinction of a long established system. * To this period belongs a beautiful sard of my own, which represents Serapis enthroned exactly as Macrobius describes him, whilst in front stands Isis, holding in one hand the sistrum, in the other a wheatsheaf, with the legend, ΗΚΥΡΙΑΕΙCΙC ΑΓΝΗ. † "Immaculate is our Lady Isis!" This address is couched in the exact words applied later to the personage who succeeded to the form, titles, symbols and ceremonies of Isis with even less variation than marked the other interchange alluded to above. The "Black Virgins" so highly venerated in certain French Cathedrals during the long night of the Middle Ages, proved when at last examined by antiquarian eyes to be basalt statues of the Egyptian goddess, which having merely changed the name, continued to receive more than pristine adoration. Her devotees carried into the new priesthood the ancient badges of their profession; "the obligation to celibacy," the tonsure, the
bell, and the surplice--omitting unfortunately the frequent and complete ablutions enjoined by the older ritual. The holy image still moves in procession as when Juvenal laughed at it (vi. 530), "Escorted by the tonsured, surpliced, train." Even her proper title "Domina," exact translation of the Sanscrit Isi, survives with slight change, in the modern "Madonna" (Mater-Domina). By a singular permutation of meaning the flower borne in the hand of each, the lotus, former symbol of perfection (because in leaf, flower, fruit, it gave the figure of the Circle, as Jamblichus explains it), and therefore of fecundity, is now interpreted as signifying the opposite to the last--virginity itself. The tinkling sistrum, so well pleasing to Egyptian ears, has unluckily found a substitute in that most hideous of all noise-makers, the clangorous bell. But this latter instrument came directly from the Buddhistic ritual in which it forms as essential a part of the religion as it did in Celtic Christianity, where the Holy Bell was the actual object of worship to the new converts. The hell in its present form was unknown to the Greeks and Romans; its normal shape is Indian, and the first true bell-founders were the Buddhist Chinese. Again relic-worship became, after the third century, the chief form of Christianity throughout the world; which finds its parallel in the fact that a fragment of a bone of a Buddha (that is, holy man in whom the deity had dwelt during his life) is actually indispensable for the consecration of a dagobah, or temple of that religion; equally as a similar particle of saintliness is a sine quâ non for the setting-up of a Roman-Catholic altar.
Very curious and interesting would it be to pursue the subject, and trace how much of Egyptian, and second-hand Indian, symbolism has passed over into the possession of a church that would be beyond measure indignant at any reclamation on the part of the rightful owners. The high cap and hooked staff of the Pharaonic god become the mitre and crosier of the bishop; the very term, Nun, is Coptic, and with its present meaning: the erected oval symbol of productive Nature, christened into the Vesica piscis, becomes the proper framework for pictures of the Divinity: the Crux ansata, that very expressive emblem of the union of the Male and Female
[paragraph continues] Principles, whence comes all Life, and therefore placed as the symbol of Life in the hands of gods, now, by simple inversion, chances into the orb and cross, the recognised distinction of sovereignty.
But to give a last glance at Serapis and his attributes: his bust on gems is often accompanied by a figure resembling a short truncheon from the top of which spring three leaves, or spikes. Can it be some plant sacred to the god, or else some instrument of power?--certain it is that Iva, Assyrian god of Thunder, carries in his hand a fulmen of somewhat similar form in the Ninivitish. sculptures. A dwarf column, supporting a globe, a corded bale, the letter Μ, * are all frequently to be seen in the same companionship. Another symbol is of such mighty import in the domains of the Lord of Souls, that its discussion may fairly claim to itself the space of the following section.
173:* Shering, in his 'Benares,' observes that the Hindoos are now building and restoring temples everywhere with greater zeal and cost than at any time since the final overthrow of Buddhism; and yet the religion itself is utterly worn out.
173:† In inscriptions of this period the long Ι is usually written ΕΙ.
175:* Perhaps the Greek numeral = 40, which was the number sacred to the Assyrian Hoa, god of Water. A conjecture, therefore, may be hazarded that these figures symbolise The Four Elements under the protection of the supreme Lord, Serapis.