The God-Idea of the Ancients (or Sex in Religion)
By Eliza Burt Gamble
Public Domain Books
Chapter XII. An Attempt to Purify the Sensualized Faiths
It has been said of the Persians that in their zeal to purify the sensualized faiths which everywhere prevailed they manifested a decided “repugnance to the worship of images, beasts, or symbols, while they sought to establish the worship of the only true creative force, or God–Holy Fire.”
From the facts to be gleaned concerning this people during the seventh and eighth centuries B.C., it is quite probable that they still had a faint knowledge of a former age of intellectual and moral greatness, and that it was their object, at that time, to return to the purer principles which characterized it. That their efforts were subsequently copied by surrounding nations is shown in the facts connected with their history.
Soon leading Syrians and Jews began to learn from their Eastern neighbor that the worship of images could scarcely be acceptable to a god which they were beginning to invest with a certain degree of spirituality. There is little doubt, at the present time, that the attempt to spiritualize the religion of the Jews was due to the influence of the Persians. However, the length of time required to effect any appreciable improvement in an established form of worship is shown by the fact that, two hundred years later, little change for the better was observed in the temples, in which licentiousness had become a recognized religious rite. Even at the present time, it is reported that in many places of worship in the East there still reside “holy women –god’s women,” who, like those in Babylon, described by various writers, are devoted to the “god of fire.”
In a comparison made between the religion of Persia and the doctrines said to have been taught by Moses, Inman remarks:
“The religion of Persia as reformed by Zoroaster so closely resembles the Mosaic, that it would be almost impossible to decide which has the precedence of the other, unless we knew how ancient was the teaching of Zoroaster, and how very recent was that said to be from Moses. Be this as it may, we find the ancient Persians resemble the Jews in sacrificing upon high places, in paying divine honor to fire, in keeping up a sacred flame, in certain ceremonial cleansings, in possessing an hereditary priesthood who alone were allowed to offer sacrifices, and in making their summum bonum the possession of a numerous offspring."
 Ancient Faiths, vol. ii., p. 64.
It is quite plain that by both these nations the wisdom of an earlier race was nearly forgotten. Seven hundred years B.C. the Persians had doubtless already adopted the worship of “One God" who was the Regenerator or Destroyer, a Deity which, as we have seen, originally comprehended the powers of Nature–namely the sun’s heat and the cold of winter. That at this time, however, they had lost the higher truths involved in the conception of this Deity, is evident. They had become worshippers of fire, or of that subtle igneous fluid residing in fire which they believed to be creative force. Although the Persiaus like all the other nations of the globe had lost or forgotten the higher truths enunciated by an older race, there is no evidence going to show that they ever became gross phallic worshippers like the Jews; that they were not such is shown in the fact that down to the time of Alexander the women of Persia still held a high and honorable position, and that the female attributes had not become wholly subject to male power.
Had we no other evidence of the comparatively exalted character of the religion of the Persians than the history of the lives of such men as Darius, Cyrus, Artaxerxes, and others, we should conclude, notwithstanding the similarity in the ceremonials of these two religions, that some influence had been at work to preserve them from the cruelty and licentiousness which prevailed among the Jews. It is related of Cyrus that he used to wish that he might live long enough to repay all the kindness which he had received. It is also stated that on account of the justice and equity shown in his character, a great number of persons were desirous of committing to his care and wisdom “the disposal of their property, their cities, and their own persons.”
In striking contrast to the mild and humane character of Cyrus stands that of the licentious and revengeful David, a “man after God’s own heart.”
“As for the heads of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them.”
“Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again."
“Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."
 Psalms cxl.
 Ibid., cxxxvii.
No one I think can read the Avestas without being impressed by the prominence there given to the subjects of temperance and virtue. In their efforts to purify religion, and in the attempts to return to their more ancient faith, the disciples of Zoroaster, as early as eight hundred years before Christ, had adopted a highly spiritualized conception of the Deity. They had taught in various portions of Asia Minor the doctrine of one God, a dual entity by means of which all things were created. They taught also the doctrine of a resurrection and that of the immortality of the soul. It was at this time that they originated, or at least propounded, the doctrine of hell and the devil, a belief exactly suited to the then weakened mental condition of mankind, and from which humanity has not yet gained sufficient intellectual and moral strength to free itself. This Persian devil, which had become identified with winter or with the absence of the sun’s rays, was now Aryhman, or the “powers of darkness,” and was doubtless the source whence sprang the personal devil elaborated at a later age by Laotse in China.
As the Jews had no writings prior to the time of Ezra or Jeremiah, it is now believed that many of the doctrines incorporated in their sacred books were borrowed from Persian, Indian, and Egyptian sources. Resurrection from the dead, or the resurrection of the body, was for hundreds of years prior to the birth of Christ an established article of Egyptian and Persian faith, while spiritual regeneration, symbolized by the outward typification of “being born again,” was the beginning of a new life and an admission to the heavenly state.
In the Khordah Avesta we have the following concerning the doctrine of the resurrection and that of future rewards and punishments.
“I am wholly without doubt in the existence of the good Mazdaycinian faith, in the coming of the resurrection and the later body, in the stepping over the bridge Chinvat, in an invariable recompense of good deeds and their reward, and of bad deeds and their punishment.”
The Zoroastrians, who led the way in the great intellectual and religious awakening which took place during the intervening years from 700 B.C. to 400 B.C., sought to purify all things by fire and water, the two principles which had come to be regarded as the original elements, from which, or by which, all things are produced.
Prior to this time, in Persia, and long afterwards by various other nations, baptism, a rite performed at puberty, was connected only with the sexual obligations of the person receiving it, but in the age which we are considering it became especially a cleansing or regenerating process, and was the means by which the pious devotee became initiated into the mysteries of holy living, or by which she or he was “born again.”
As in their religious procedure every act was performed in connection with symbols, so in the matter of baptism they were not satisfied with the inner consciousness of regeneration, but must go through with certain processes which typified the new life upon which they had entered. According to Wilford, the outward symbolization of the “new birth” in the East is manifested in the following manner:
“For the purpose of regeneration it is directed to make an image of pure gold of the female power of nature, either in the shape of a woman or of a cow. In this statue, the person to be regenerated is inclosed, and dragged out through the natural channel. As a statue of pure gold and of proper dimensions would be too expensive, it is sufficient to make an image of the sacred Yoni, through which the person to be regenerated is to pass.”
Thus at the time Nicodemus is said to have queried concerning the mysteries of the new birth, it is observed that the outward forms of regeneration had long been in use among the pagans. In passing themselves through these apertures, the applicant for regeneration was supposed to represent the condition of one “issuing from the womb to a new scope of life.”
According to the testimony of various writers upon this subject, there are still extant, not alone in oriental countries, but in Ireland and Scotland as well, numerous excavations or apertures in the rocks which by an early race were used for the same purpose. Through the misconception, bigotry, and ignorance of the Roman Catholic missionaries in Ireland, these openings were designated as the “Devil’s Yonies.” Although these emblems typified the original conception of one of their most sacred beliefs, namely, the “new birth,” still they were “heathen abominations” with which the devotees of the new (?) faith must not become defiled.
The people who executed these imperishable designs, and who have left in the British Isles innumerable evidences of their religious beliefs, are supposed by some writers to belong to a colony which, having been expelled from Persia on account of their peculiar religious beliefs, settled in the “White Island," the “Island of the Blessed.” This subject will, however, be referred to later in this work.
When we closely examine the facts connected with the evolution of religion, there can be little doubt that the Persians laid the foundation for that great moral and intellectual awakening which a century or two later is represented by Confucious, Gotama Buddha, and Pythagoras. From the Persians, doubtless Jew and Gentile alike received the little leaven of spirituality which in later ages crept into their gross conception of a Deity.
By the Persians, the Hindoos, and other nations of the East, it was believed that the end of each cycle of six hundred years, at which time a new sun or savior was to come, would mark a new era of religious development. At the close of each of these cycles it was devoutly expected that the “golden age” of the past would be restored, and that mankind would again be freed from the ills which had overtaken them. As many of these cycles had passed, numerous deliverers, saviors, or solar incarnations had appeared in India, Gotama Buddha having been the ninth. In the East, about six or seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, not only one savior or prophet but three or four of them appeared.
Concerning the leader of the reform in Persia there seem to be many conflicting accounts. The learned Faber concludes that there were two Zarathustras or Zoroasters, the former being identical with Menu, the law giver and triplicated deity of India, and who by various writers is recognized as the Noah of the Hebrews. According to Pliny, the former lived thousands of years before Christ. Several writers concur in placing him five thousand years before the siege of Troy. According to Sir Wm. Jones, the latter Zoroaster lived in the time of Darius Hystaspes. It is now claimed that in the Dabistan, one of the sacred books of Persia, thirteen Zoroasters appear. The name of the last great leader, together with a few of his doctrines, and various scattered fragments in the Gathas, are all that remain on record of a man whose personality stands connected with the earliest attempt to reform a degraded and sensualized religion.
That this prophet was without honor in his own country is shown by the following lamentation:
“To what country shall I go? Where shall I take refuge? What country gives shelter to the master, Zarathustra, and his companion? None of the servants pay reverence to me, nor do the wicked rulers of the country. How shall I worship thee further, living Wise One? What help did Zarathustra receive when he proclaimed the truths? What did he obtain through the good mind? . . . Why has the truthful one so few adherents, while all the mighty, who are unbelievers, follow the liar in great numbers?"
 Quoted by Viscount Amberley from Haug’s Translations.
Although the prophet Zarathustra and his companion were first rejected, the fact seems plain that the monotheistic doctrines which they set forth were subsequently accepted as the groundwork of the religion of Persia.
In the opening verses of the 5th Gatha appears the following:
“It is reported that Zarathustra Spitama possessed the best good, for Ahura Mazda granted him all that may be obtained by means of a sincere worship, forever, all that promotes the good life, and he gives the same to all who keep the words and perform the actions enjoined by the good religion. . . .
“Pourutschista, the Hetchataspadin, the most holy one, the most distinguished of the daughters of Zarathustra, formed this doctrine, as a reflection of the good mind, the true and wise one.”
The fact will doubtless be observed that Pourutschista was not merely a disciple of Zarathustra, but that she FORMED the doctrine which was accepted as a “reflection of the good mind.”
In the 5th Gatha it is stated that among those who “know the right paths, the law which Ahura gave to the Profitable,” is Pourutschista the “Holy worthy of adoration among the daughters of Zarathustra. . . . wise female worker of Wisdom."
 Spiegel’s Translation.
Ormuzd, or Ahura Mazda, which was the essence of heat or light, was the principle adored by the followers of the reformed religion in Persia. Throughout the Avesta the most desirable possession, and that which is most praised, is purity of life.
“We praise the pure man. “The best purity praise we. “The best wish praise we of the best purity. The best place of purity praise we, the shining, endued with all brightness." “This Earth, together with the women, we praise Which bears us, which are the women, Ahura Mazda Whose wishes arise from purity, these we praise– Fullness, readiness, questioning, wisdom."
 Vespered xxvi. Spiegel’s Translation.
 Yacna xxxviii.
Praise is offered to the “everlasting female companion, the instructing.”
The following is a part of the marriage ceremony of the Persians as it is found in the Khorda-Avesta:
“Do you both accept the contract for life with honorable mind? In the name and friendship of Ormuzd be ever shining, be very enlarged. Be increasing. Be victorious. Learn purity. Be worthy of good praise. May the mind think good thoughts, the words speak good, the works do good. May all wicked thoughts hasten away, all wicked words be diminished, all wicked works be burnt up. . . . Win for thyself property by right-dealing. Speak truth with the rulers and be obedient. Be modest with friends, clever, and well wishing. Be not cruel, be not covetous. . . . Combat adversaries with right. Before an assembly speak only pure words. In no wise displease thy mother. Keep thine own body pure in justice.”
Confucius, the great Chinese teacher and philosopher, who lived probably in the sixth century B.C., may be said to have been a humanitarian or moralist instead of a mystic. Although he believed in a great first principle, or cause, which he termed Heaven, we are given to understand that in his philosophizing little mention was made of it.
The system known as Confucianism was not originated by Confucius.
In referring to this subject Legge remarks:
“He said of himself (Analects, vii., I), that he was a transmitter and not a maker, one who believed in and loved the ancients; and hence it is said in the thirtieth chapter of the doctrine of the Mean, ascribed to his grandson, that he handed down the doctrines of Yao and Shun, as if they had been his ancestors, and elegantly displayed the regulations of Wan and Wu, taking them as his models."
 Legge, Preface to vol. iii. of Shu King.
The ancient books which Confucius interpreted or rewrote laid no claim to being sacred in the sense of being inspired; but, on the contrary, were works of wisdom put forth by historians, poets, and others “as they were moved in their own minds.” The most ancient of these doctrines was the Shu, a work which since the period of the Han dynasty, 202 years B.C., has been called the Shu King.
A number of documents contained in this work date back to the twenty-fourth century B.C., and as they are regarded as historical are considered to be of greater importance than are any others of their ancient writings.
Second in antiquity and importance is the Shih or the Book of Poetry. This work contains the religious views of its writers, also an account of the manners, customs, and events of the times to which they belong. For 5000 years, in China, Tien or Ti has expressed the moving or creating force in the universe. In later ages it is observed that this name has been attached to royalty. Hwang Ti is the present title of the Emperor of China.
From some of the texts found in the Shu King, it would seem that the Chinese had in the remote past caught sight of the scientific fact that virtue is its own reward. “Heaven graciously distinguishes the virtuous. . . . Heaven punishes the guilty."
 Max Muller, Sacred Books of the East, book iv.
The principal object of Confucius seems to have been to inculcate those doctrines of his ancestors which, taking root, would in time bring about a return to those principles of former virtue, a faint knowledge of which seems still to have survived in China. The following precepts are found among his teachings:
“Knowledge, magnanimity, and energy are the virtues universally binding. Gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness constitute perfect virtue. Sincerity is the very way to Heaven. My doctrine is that of an all-pervading unity. The superior man is catholic and not partisan. The mean is partisan and not catholic. The superior man is affable but not adulatory, the mean is adulatory but not affable.”
When asked for a word which should serve as a rule of practice for all our life he replied: “Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” On one occasion the question was asked him: “What do you say concerning the principle that injury shall be recompensed with kindness?” To which he replied: “Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness."
 Lun Yu, xiv., 26.
It is recorded by his disciples that there are four things from which the master was entirely free. “He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egoism.” Contrary to the rule of most reformers or leaders of opinion, he always regarded himself as a learner as well as teacher. It is related of Confucius that he at one time desired a governmental position, thinking that through its occupancy he might the better disseminate the ancient doctrines of rectitude and virtue. Offers of individual advantage could not swerve him from his well-grounded principles of honor. On one occasion one of the rulers of the country proposed to confer upon him a city and its revenues, but Confucius replied: “A superior man will only receive reward for services which he has rendered. I have given advice to the duke-king, but he has not obeyed it, and now he would endow me with this place! very far is he from understanding me."
 Quoted by Amberley, Analysis of Religious Belief, vol. i., p. 197.
The fact seems evident that Confucius had not sufficient strength of character to attempt a change in the social conditions of his time. He had not that grandeur of soul which enabled him to strike the key-note of reform. Monarchical institutions and social distinctions he did not rebuke. The brotherhood of man and the levelling processes in human society were probably never thought of by him; certainly they were never attempted.
By certain writers Confucius has been accused of insincerity in a few minor matters; still, the wisdom contained in his religious doctrines, the philosophical value of his teachings relative to the regulation of human conduct, and, above all, his purity of purpose, justly entitles his name to be enrolled among the great reformers of the world.
The lasting influence which this man exerted upon the minds of his countrymen, and the appreciation in which his name and works are still held, are shown by the fact that his descendants constitute the only order of hereditary nobility in China.
“He lived five hundred years before Christ; and yet to this day, through all the changes and chances of time and of dynasties, the descendants of Confucius remain the only hereditary noblemen and national pensioners in the empire. Even the imperial blood becomes diluted, degraded, and absorbed into the body politic after the seventh generation; but the descendants of Confucius remain separate, through all the mutations of time and of government."
 Thomas Magee, in the Forum, vol. x., p. 204.
Laotse, the founder of the smallest of the three sects in China, namely, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, was an old man when Confucius was in his prime. The word Taou signifies reason, but the doctrines believed by the Taoists prove their system to be the most irrational of all the religions of the East. In an article on The Taouist Religion, Warren Benton says:
“The tendency in rationalism is toward the utter destruction of a belief in the existence of unseen spirits of evil. Enlightened reason dethrones devils; but Laotse created devils innumerable, and the chief concern of the Taouist sect has always been to manipulate these emissaries of evil. Modern rationalists deny the existence of devils, and relegate them to the category of myths and to personified ideas. Not so the rationalist of the Orient. He finds his greatest pleasure in contemplating the very atmosphere he breathes as filled with spirits constantly seeking his injury; and to outwit his satanic majesty is the chief end of life."
 Pop. Science, Jan. 1890.
At a time when a personal devil was gradually assuming shape, it would have been singular, indeed, if there had not arisen one who, by his peculiar temperament and natural disposition, was exactly suited to the task of elaborating this doctrine in all its grim seriousness. That such an one did arise in the person of Laotse is evident from what is known regarding his history and teachings.
The growth of religious faith had long tended in this direction. Typhon, “the wind that blasts,” “Darkness,” and the “cold of winter,” constituted the foundation of a belief in a personal Devil; and, when the time was ripe for the appearance of his satanic majesty, it required only a hypochondriac– a disordered mental organization–to formulate and project this gloomy and unwholesome doctrine.
There is little known of the life and character of Laotse except that he labored assiduously through a long life-time for the establishment of certain principles or tenets which he believed to be essential to the well-being of humanity. In the twentieth chapter of his work are found to be some hints of his personality and of the gloomy cast of his character. He complains that while other men are joyous and gay, he alone is despondent. He is “calm like a child that does not yet smile.” He is “like a stupid fellow, so confused does he feel. Ordinary men are enlightened; he is obscure and troubled in mind. Like the sea, he is forgotten and driven about like one who has no certain resting place. All other men are of use; he alone is clownish like a peasant. He alone is unlike other men, but he honors the nursing mother.”
Of all the various teachers which arose during the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries B.C., none of them were able to rise to the position of moral grandeur occupied by Gotama Buddha. The efforts put forth by this great teacher seem to have been humane rather than religious. In his time, especially in India, society had become encysted beneath a crust of seemingly impenetrable conservatism, while religion, or priestcraft, riveted the chains by which the masses of the people were enslaved.
The mission of Buddha was to burst asunder the bonds of the oppressed and to abolish all distinctions of caste. This was to be accomplished through the awakening of the divine life in each individual. The leading processes by which the lines of caste were weakened were in direct opposition to the established order of society. It was a blow at the old Brahminical social and religious code which had grown up under the reign of priest-craft.
Notwithstanding the sex prejudice which had come to prevail in India, it was directly stated by Buddha that any man or woman who became his disciple, who renounced the world and by abstinence from the lower indulgences of sense proclaimed her or his adherence to the higher principles of life, “at once lost either the privilege of a high caste or the degradation of a low one.” Earthly distinctions were of no consequence. Rank depended not on the outward circumstance of birth, but on the ability of the individual to resist evil, or, upon his capacity to receive the higher truths enunciated by the new sun or savior–Buddha.
In one of the canonical books he is represented as saying:
“Since the doctrine which I teach is completely pure, it makes no distinction between noble and common, between rich and poor. It is, for example, like water, which washes both noblemen and common people, both rich and poor, both good and bad, and purifies all without distinction. It may, to take another illustration, be compared to fire, which consumes mountains, rocks, and all great and small objects between heaven and earth. Again, my doctrine is like heaven, inasmuch as there is room within it without exception, for whomsoever it may be; for men and women, for boys and girls, for rich and poor."
 Viscount Amberley, Analysis of Religious Belief, vol. i., p. 216.
There is little doubt that the religion of Buddha was an attempt to return to the almost forgotten principles of a past age of spiritual and moral greatness. According to this ancient wisdom, man is an immortal soul struggling for perfection. The growth of the real man is a natural unfolding of the divine principle within, such process of evolution being accomplished through the power of the will. As every individual must work out his own salvation, this will-force must ever be directed toward the complete mastery of the body, or the lower self. In other words, the development of the higher life depends upon the power of the individual to overcome or conquer evil. The effect of every thought, word, and deed is woven into the soul, and no one can evade the consequences of his own acts. All sin is the result of selfishness, so that only when one renounces self and begins to live for others does the soul-life begin. No one who has arrived at a state of soul-consciousness will lead a selfish or impure life. On the contrary, every impulse of the devout Buddhist goes out toward humanity and God, of whom he is a conscious part.
Gotama Buddha was not a “savior” in the sense of bloody sacrifice for the sins of the people. On the contrary, he was an example to mankind–a man who through moral purification and a life of self- abnegation had prepared himself for this holy office. Mythologically, or astrologically, he was the new sun born at the close of the cycle. He was the great Light which revealed the way to eternal repose– Nirvana. The mythical Buddha was the prototype of the mythical Christ. His mother was Mai or Mary, Queen of Heaven, or the Vernal Spring. He was a new incarnation of the Sun–the Savior of the world. In process of time his many miracles were offered as proof of his divine character. Although he taught the existence of a great and universal Power, he made no attempt to explain the unknowable. The Infinite is to be contemplated only through its manifestations. Nirvana is not annihilation, as has been erroneously taught by Christian missionaries. As explained by Buddhists themselves, it comprehends a state of absolute rest from human strife and wretchedness. It is the absorption or relapsing into the great First Principle, whence all life is derived–a state so pure that the human is lost in the divine.
“Lamp of the law! I take my refuge in thy name and Thee! I take my refuge in thy Law of Good! I take my refuge in thy Order! Om! The dew is on the Lotus!–rise, Great Sun! And lift my leaf and mix me with the wave. Om Mani Padme Hum, the Sunrise comes! The Dewdrop slips into the shining Sea!"
 Arnold, Light of Asia.
From the Buddhist colleges at Nolanda went forth teachers who, inspired with enthusiasm in the cause of human justice and individual liberty, endeavored to abolish the abominations which had grown up under Brahminical rule. The masses of the people, however, were too deeply sunken in infamy, wretchedness, and ignorance to accept, or even understand, the pure doctrines of the great teacher, and, as might have been anticipated, priest- craft soon assumed its wonted arrogance, and eventually the whole paraphernalia of antiquated dogmas were tacked upon the new system.
Through the various efforts put forth for the elevation of mankind during the six or seven hundred years which preceded the advent of Christianity, sufficient strength had been given to the moral impetus of humanity to create in many portions of the world a strong desire for a return to purer principles, and to make the appearance of a spiritual teacher like Christ possible. The effects, however, of ages of moral and intellectual degradation, in which the lowest faculties have been stimulated to the highest degree, are not wiped out in a few centuries of struggle by the few among the people who desire reform. As true reform means growth, those who have reached a higher stage of development can only point the way to others–they are powerless to effect changes for which the masses are unprepared.
Although through a partial revival of the ideas entertained by an ancient people the attempt was made by Zoroaster, Confucius, Gotama Buddha, Pythagoras, the Stoics, and other schools of philosophy, to elevate the masses of the people, and, although the unadulterated teachings of the man called Christ were doubtless an outgrowth of this movement, yet the human mind had not, even as late as the appearance of this last-named reformer, sufficiently recovered from its thraldom to enable the masses to grasp those higher truths which had been entertained by an earlier civilized people.
While there are doubtless many points of similarity between the religious system elaborated by Gotama Buddha and that enunciated by Christ, there is little likeness between the teachings of the former and those set forth by the Romish Church, or by Paul. Seven hundred years B.C., the Persians had grasped the idea that virtue is its own reward, and that every soul is responsible for its own growth. The fundamental doctrine of the Christian Church to-day is that of a vicarious atonement–a belief which takes away man’s responsibility for his own misdeeds.