OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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THE SEARCH OF TRUTH.
The people expressed their applause, and the legislator continued:
To proceed with order, and avoid all confusion, let a spacious
semicircle be left vacant in front of the altar of peace and union;
let each system of religion, and each particular sect, erect its
proper distinctive standard on the line of this semicircle; let its
chiefs and doctors place themselves around the standard, and their
followers form a column behind them.
The semicircle being traced, and the order published, there
instantly rose an innumerable multitude of standards, of all colors
and of every form, like what we see in a great commercial port,
when, on a day of rejoicing, a thousand different flags and
streamers are floating from a forest of masts.
At the sight of this prodigious diversity, I turned towards the
Genius and said:
I thought that the earth was divided only into eight or ten systems
of faith, and I then despaired of a reconciliation; I now behold
thousands of different sects, and how can I hope for concord?
But these, replied the Genius, are not all; and yet they will be
Then, as the groups advanced to take their stations, he pointed out
to me their distinctive marks, and thus began to explain their
That first group, said he, with a green banner bearing a crescent,
a bandage, and a sabre, are the followers of the Arabian prophet.
To say there is a God, without knowing what he is; to believe the
words of a man, without understanding his language; to go into the
desert to pray to God, who is everywhere; to wash the hands with
water, and not abstain from blood; to fast all day, and eat all
night; to give alms of their own goods, and to plunder those of
others; such are the means of perfection instituted by Mahomet--
such are the symbols of his followers; and whoever does not bear
them is a reprobate, stricken with anathema, and devoted to the
A God of clemency, the author of life, has instituted these laws of
oppression and murder: he made them for all the world, but has
revealed them only to one man; he established them from all
eternity, though he made them known but yesterday. These laws are
abundantly sufficient for all purposes, and yet a volume is added
to them. This volume was to diffuse light, to exhibit evidence, to
lead men to perfection and happiness; and yet every page was so
full of obscurities, ambiguities, and contradictions, that
commentaries and explanations became necessary, even in the life-
time of its apostle. Its interpreters, differing in opinion,
divided into opposite and hostile sects. One maintains that Ali is
the true successor; the other contends for Omar and Aboubekre.
This denies the eternity of the Koran; that the necessity of
ablutions and prayers. The Carmite forbids pilgrimages, and allows
the use of wine; the Hakemite preaches the transmigration of souls.
Thus they make up the number of seventy-two sects, whose banners
are before you.* In this contestation, every one attributing the
evidence of truth exclusively to himself, and taxing all others
with heresy and rebellion, turns against them its sanguinary zeal.
And their religion, which celebrates a mild and merciful God, the
common father of all men,--changed to a torch of discord, a signal
for war and murder, has not ceased for twelve hundred years to
deluge the earth in blood, and to ravage and desolate the ancient
hemisphere from centre to circumference.**
- The Mussulmen enumerate in common seventy-two sects, but I read,
while I resided among them, a work which gave an account of more
than eighty,--all equally wise and important.
Read the history of Islamism by its own writers, and you will be
convinced that one of the principal causes of the wars which have
desolated Asia and Africa, since the days of Mahomet, has been the
apostolical fanaticism of its doctrine. Caesar has been supposed
to have destroyed three millions of men: it would be interesting to
make a similar calculation respecting every founder of a religious
Those men, distinguished by their enormous white turbans, their
broad sleeves, and their long rosaries, are the Imans, the Mollas,
and the Muftis; and near them are the Dervishes with pointed
bonnets, and the Santons with dishevelled hair. Behold with what
vehemence they recite their professions of faith! They are now
beginning a dispute about the greater and lesser impurities--about
the matter and the manner of ablutions,--about the attributes of
God and his perfections--about the Chaitan, and the good and wicked
angels,--about death, the resurrection, the interrogatory in the
tomb, the judgment, the passage of the narrow bridge not broader
than a hair, the balance of works, the pains of hell, and the joys
Next to these, that second more numerous group, with white banners
intersected with crosses, are the followers of Jesus.
Acknowledging the same God with the Mussulmans, founding their
belief on the same books, admitting, like them, a first man who
lost the human race by eating an apple, they hold them, however, in
a holy abhorrence; and, out of pure piety, they call each other
The great point of their dissension consists in this, that after
admitting a God one and indivisible the Christian divides him into
three persons, each of which he believes to be a complete and
entire God, without ceasing to constitute an identical whole, by
the indivisibility of the three. And he adds, that this being, who
fills the universe, has reduced himself to the body of a man; and
has assumed material, perishable, and limited organs, without
ceasing to be immaterial, infinite, and eternal. The Mussulman who
does not comprehend these mysteries, rejects them as follies, and
the visions of a distempered brain; though he conceives perfectly
well the eternity of the Koran, and the mission of the prophet:
hence their implacable hatreds.
Again, the Christians, divided among themselves on many points,
have formed parties not less violent than the Mussulmans; and their
quarrels are so much the more obstinate, as the objects of them are
inaccessible to the senses and incapable of demonstration: their
opinions, therefore, have no other basis but the will and caprice
of the parties. Thus, while they agree that God is a being
incomprehensible and unknown, they dispute, nevertheless, about his
essence, his mode of acting, and his attributes. While they agree
that his pretended transformation into man is an enigma above the
human understanding, they dispute on the junction or distinction of
his two wills and his two natures, on his change of substance, on
the real or fictitious presence, on the mode of incarnation, etc.
Hence those innumerable sects, of which two or three hundred have
already perished, and three or four hundred others, which still
subsist, display those numberless banners which here distract your
The first in order, surrounded by a group in varied and fantastic
dress, that confused mixture of violet, red, white, black and
speckled garments--with heads shaved, or with tonsures, or with
short hair--with red hats, square bonnets, pointed mitres, or long
beards, is the standard of the Roman pontiff, who, uniting the
civil government to the priesthood, has erected the supremacy of
his city into a point of religion, and made of his pride an article
On his right you see the Greek pontiff, who, proud of the rivalship
of his metropolis, sets up equal pretensions, and supports them
against the Western church by the priority of that of the East. On
the left are the standards of two recent chiefs,* who, shaking off
a yoke that had become tyrannical, have raised altar against altar
in their reform, and wrested half of Europe from the pope. Behind
these are the subaltern sects, subdivided from the principal
divisions, the Nestorians, the Eutycheans, the Jacobites, the
Iconoclasts, the Anabaptists, the Presbyterians, the Wicliffites,
the Osiandrians, the Manicheans, the Pietists, the Adamites, the
Contemplatives, the Quakers, the Weepers, and a hundred others,
all of distinct parties, persecuting when strong, tolerant when
weak, hating each other in the name of a God of peace, forming each
an exclusive heaven in a religion of universal charity, dooming
each other to pains without end in a future state, and realizing in
this world the imaginary hell of the other.
Consult upon this subject Dictionnaire des Herseies par l'Abbe
Pluquet, in two volumes 8vo.: a work admirably calculated to
inspire the mind with philosophy, in the sense that the
Lacedemonians taught the children temperance by showing to them the
After this group, observing a lonely standard of the color of
hyacinth, round which were assembled men clad in all the different
dresses of Europe and Asia:
At least, said I, to the Genius, we shall find unanimity here.
Yes, said he, at first sight and by a momentary accident. Dost
thou not know that system of worship?
Then, perceiving in Hebrew letters the monogram of the name of God,
and the palms which the Rabbins held in their hands:
True, said I, these are the children of Moses, dispersed even to
this day, abhorring every nation, and abhorred and persecuted by
Yes, he replied, and for this reason, that, having neither the time
nor liberty to dispute, they have the appearance of unanimity. But
no sooner will they come together, compare their principles, and
reason on their opinions, than they will separate as formerly, at
least into two principal sects;* one of which, taking advantage of
the silence of their legislator, and adhering to the literal sense
of his books, will deny everything that is not clearly expressed
therein; and on this principle will reject as profane inventions,
the immortality of the soul, its transmigration to places of pain
or pleasure, its resurrection, the final judgment, the good and bad
angels, the revolt of the evil Genius, and all the poetical belief
of a world to come. And this highly-favored people, whose
perfection consists in a slight mutilation of their persons,--this
atom of a people, which forms but a small wave in the ocean of
mankind, and which insists that God has made nothing but for them,
will by its schism reduce to one-half, its present trifling weight
in the scale of the universe.
- The Sadducees and Pharisees.
He then showed me a neighboring group, composed of men dressed in
white robes, wearing a veil over their mouths, and ranged around a
banner of the color of the morning sky, on which was painted a
globe cleft in two hemispheres, black and white: The same thing
will happen, said he, to these children of Zoroaster,* the obscure
remnant of a people once so powerful. At present, persecuted like
the Jews, and dispersed among all nations, they receive without
discussion the precepts of the representative of their prophet.
But as soon as the Mobed and the Destours** shall assemble, they
will renew the controversy about the good and the bad principle; on
the combats of Ormuzd, God of light, and Ahrimanes, God of
darkness; on the direct and allegorical sense; on the good and evil
Genii; on the worship of fire and the elements; on impurities and
ablutions; on the resurrection of the soul and body, or only of the
soul;*** on the renovation of the present world, and on that which
is to take its place. And the Parses will divide into sects, so
much the more numerous, as their families will have contracted,
during their dispersion, the manners and opinions of different
- They are the Parses, better known by the opprobrious name of
Gaures or Guebres, another word for infidels. They are in Asia
what the Jews are in Europe. The name of their pope or high priest
That is to say, their priests. See, respecting the rites of
this religion, Henry Lord Hyde, and the Zendavesta. Their costume
is a robe with a belt of four knots, and a veil over their mouth
for fear of polluting the fire with their breath.
*** The Zoroastrians are divided between two opinions; one party
believing that both soul and body will rise, the other that it will
be the soul only. The Christians and Mahometans have embraced the
most solid of the two.
Next to these, remark those banners of an azure ground, painted
with monstrous figures of human bodies, double, triple, and
quadruple, with heads of lions, boars, and elephants, and tails of
fishes and tortoises; these are the ensigns of the sects of India,
who find their gods in various animals, and the souls of their
fathers in reptiles and insects. These men support hospitals for
hawks, serpents, and rats, and they abhor their fellow creatures!
They purify themselves with the dung and urine of cows, and think
themselves defiled by the touch of a man! They wear a net over the
mouth, lest, in a fly, they should swallow a soul in a state of
penance,* and they can see a Pariah** perish with hunger! They
acknowledge the same gods, but they separate into hostile bands.
- According to the system of the Metempsychosis, a soul, to undergo
purification, passes into the body of some insect or animal. It is
of importance not to disturb this penance, as the work must in that
case begin afresh.
This is the name of a cast or tribe reputed unclean, because
they eat of what has enjoyed life.
The first standard, retired from the rest, bearing a figure with
four heads, is that of Brama, who, though the creator of the
universe, is without temples or followers; but, reduced to serve as
a pedestal to the Lingam,* he contents himself with a little water
which the Bramin throws every morning on his shoulder, reciting
meanwhile an idle canticle in his praise.
- See Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes, vol. 1.
The second, bearing a kite with a scarlet body and a white head, is
that of Vichenou, who, though preserver of the world, has passed
part of his life in wicked actions. You sometimes see him under
the hideous form of a boar or a lion, tearing human entrails, or
under that of a horse,* shortly to come armed with a sword to
destroy the human race, blot out the stars, annihilate the planets,
shake the earth, and force the great serpent to vomit a fire which
shall consume the spheres.
- These are the incarnations of Vichenou, or metamorphoses of the
sun. He is to come at the end of the world, that is, at the
expiration of the great period, in the form of a horse, like the
four horses of the Apocalypse.
The third is that of Chiven, God of destruction and desolation, who
has, however, for his emblem the symbol of generation. He is the
most wicked of the three, and he has the most followers. These
men, proud of his character, express in their devotions to him
their contempt for the other gods,* his equals and brothers; and,
in imitation of his inconsistencies, while they profess great
modesty and chastity, they publicly crown with flowers, and
sprinkle with milk and honey, the obscene image of the Lingam.
- When a sectary of Chiven hears the name of Vichenou pronounced,
he stops his ears, runs, and purifies himself.
In the rear of these, approach the smaller standards of a multitude
of gods--male, female, and hermaphrodite. These are friends and
relations of the principal gods, who have passed their lives in
wars among themselves, and their followers imitate them. These
gods have need of nothing, and they are constantly receiving
presents; they are omnipotent and omnipresent, and a priest, by
muttering a few words, shuts them up in an idol or a pitcher, to
sell their favors for his own benefit.
Beyond these, that cloud of standards, which, on a yellow ground,
common to them all, bear various emblems, are those of the same
god, who reins under different names in the nations of the East.
The Chinese adores him in Fot,* the Japanese in Budso, the
Ceylonese in Bedhou, the people of Laos in Chekia, of Pegu in Phta,
of Siam in Sommona-Kodom, of Thibet in Budd and in La. Agreeing in
some points of his history, they all celebrate his life of
penitence, his mortifications, his fastings, his functions of
mediator and expiator, the enmity between him and another god, his
adversary, their battles, and his ascendency. But as they disagree
on the means of pleasing him, they dispute about rites and
ceremonies, and about the dogmas of interior doctrine and of public
doctrine. That Japanese Bonze, with a yellow robe and naked head,
preaches the eternity of souls, and their successive
transmigrations into various bodies; near him, the Sintoist denies
that souls can exist separate from the senses, and maintains that
they are only the effect of the organs to which they belong, and
with which they must perish, as the sound of the flute perishes
with the flute. Near him, the Siamese, with his eyebrows shaved,
and a talipat screen*** in his hand, recommends alms, offerings,
and expiations, at the same time that he preaches blind necessity
and inexorable fate. The Chinese vo-chung sacrifices to the souls
of his ancestors; and next him, the follower of Confucius
interrogates his destiny in the cast of dice and the movement of
the stars.**** That child, surrounded by a swarm of priests in
yellow robes and hats, is the Grand Lama, in whom the god of Thibet
has just become incarnate.*5 But a rival has arisen who partakes
this benefit with him; and the Kalmouc on the banks of the Baikal,
has a God similar to the inhabitant of Lasa. And they agree, also,
in one important point--that god can inhabit only a human body.
They both laugh at the stupidity of the Indian who pays homage to
cow-dung, though they themselves consecrate the excrements of their
- The original name of this god is Baits, which in Hebrew signifies
an egg. The Arabs pronounce it Baidh, giving to the dh an emphatic
sound which makes it approach to dz. Kempfer, an acurate traveler,
writes it Budso, which must be pronounced Boudso, whence is derived
the name of Budsoist and of Bonze, applied to the priests. Clement
of Alexandria, in his Stromata, writes it Bedou, as it is
pronounced also by the Chingulais; and Saint Jerome, Boudda and
Boutta. At Thibet they call it Budd; and hence the name of the
country called Boud-tan and Ti-budd: it was in this province that
this system of religion was first inculcated in Upper Asia; La is a
corruption of Allah, the name of God in the Syriac language, from
which many of the eastern dialects appear to be derived. The
Chinese having neither b nor d, have supplied their place by f and
t, and have therefore said Fout.
See in Kempfer the doctrine of the Sintoists, which is a mixture
of that of Epicurus and of the Stoics.
*** It is a leaf of the Latanier species of the palm-tree. Hence
the bonzes of Siam take the appellation of Talapoin. The use of
this screen is an exclusive privilege.
**** The sectaries of Confucius are no less addicted to astrology
than the bonzes. It is indeed the malady of every eastern nation.
*5 The Delai-La-Ma, or immense high priest of La, is the same
person whom we find mentioned in our old books of travels, by the
name of Prester John, from a corruption of the Persian word Djehan,
which signifies the world, to which has been prefixed the French
word prestre or pretre, priest. Thus the priest world, and the god
world are in the Persian idiom the same.
*6 In a recent expedition the English have found certain idols of
the Lamas filled in the inside with sacred pastils from the close
stool of the high priest. Mr. Hastings, and Colonel Pollier, who
is now at Lausanne, are living witnesses of this fact, and
undoubtedly worthy of credit. It will be very extraordinary to
observe, that this disgusting ceremony is connected with a profound
philosophical system, to wit, that of the metempsychosis, admitted
by the Lamas. When the Tartars swallow, the sacred relics, which
they are accustomed to do, they imitate the laws of the universe,
the parts of which are incessantly absorbed and pass into the
substance of each other. It is upon the model of the serpent who
devours his tail, and this serpent is Budd and the world.
After these, a crowd of other banners, which no man could number,
came forward into sight; and the genius exclaimed:
I should never finish the detail of all the systems of faith which
divide these nations. Here the hordes of Tartars adore, in the
forms of beasts, birds, and insects, the good and evil Genii; who,
under a principal, but indolent god, govern the universe. In their
idolatry they call to mind the ancient paganism of the West. You
observe the fantastical dress of the Chamans; who, under a robe of
leather, hung round with bells and rattles, idols of iron, claws of
birds, skins of snakes and heads of owls, invoke, with frantic
cries and factitious convulsions, the dead to deceive the living.
There, the black tribes of Africa exhibit the same opinions in the
worship of their fetiches. See the inhabitant of Juida worship god
in a great snake, which, unluckily, the swine delight to eat.* The
Teleutean attires his god in a coat of several colors, like a
Russian soldier.** The Kamchadale, observing that everything goes
wrong in his frozen country, considers god as an old ill-natured
man, smoking his pipe and hunting foxes and martins in his
- It frequently happens that the swine devour the very species of
serpents the negroes adore, which is a source of great desolation
in the country. President de Brosses has given us, in his History
of the Fetiche, a curious collection of absurdities of this nature.
The Teleuteans, a Tartar nation, paint God as wearing a vesture
of all colors, particularly red and green; and as these constitute
the uniform of the Russian dragoons, they compare him to this
description of soldiers. The Egyptians also dress the God World in
a garment of every color. Eusebius Proep. Evang. p 115. The
Teleuteans call God Bou, which is only an alteration of Boudd, the
God Egg and World.
*** Consult upon this subject a work entitled, Description des
Peuples, soumis a la Russie, and it will be found that the picture
is not overcharged.
But you may still behold a hundred savage nations who have none of
the ideas of civilized people respecting God, the soul, another
world, and a future life; who have formed no system of worship; and
who nevertheless enjoy the rich gifts of nature in the irreligion
in which she has created them.