THE RUINS: MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES AND THE
LAW OF NATURE
by C. F. VOLNEY
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XVII. Universal Basis of all Right and
XVIII. Consternation and Conspiracy of
XIX. General Assembly of the
XX. The Search of Truth
UNIVERSAL BASIS OF ALL RIGHT AND ALL LAW
The men chosen by the people to investigate the true principles of morals and
of reason then proceeded in the sacred object of their mission; and, after a
long examination, having discovered a fundamental and universal principle, a
legislator arose and said to the people:
Here is the primordial basis, the physical origin of all justice and of all
Whatever be the active power, the moving cause, that governs the universe,
since it has given to all men the same organs, the same sensations, and the same
wants, it has thereby declared that it has given to all the same right to the
use of its treasures, and that all men are equal in the order of nature.
And, since this power has given to each man the necessary means of preserving
his own existence, it is evident that it has constituted them all independent
one of another; that it has created them free; that no one is subject to
another; that each one is absolute proprietor of his own person.
Equality and liberty are, therefore, two essential attributes of man, two
laws of the Divinity, constitutional and unchangeable, like the physical
properties of matter.
Now, every individual being absolute master of his own person, it follows
that a full and free consent is a condition indispensable to all contracts and
Again, since each individual is equal to another, it follows that the balance
of what is received and of what is given, should be strictly in equilibrium; so
that the idea of justice, of equity, necessarily imports that of equality.*
* The etymology of the words themselves trace out to us this connection:
equilibrium, equalitas, equitas, are all of one family, and the physical idea of
equality, in the scales of a balance, is the source and type of all the
Equality and liberty are therefore the physical and unalterable basis of
every union of men in society, and of course the necessary and generating
principle of every law and of every system of regular government.*
* In the Declaration of Rights, there is an inversion of ideas in the first
article, liberty being placed before equality, from which it in reality springs.
This defect is not to be wondered at; the science of the rights of man is a new
science: it was invented yesterday by the Americans, to-day the French are
perfecting it, but there yet remains a great deal to be done. In the ideas that
constitute it there is a genealogical order which, from us basis, physical
equality, to the minutest and most remote branches of government, ought to
proceed in an uninterrupted series of inferences.
A disregard of this basis has introduced in your nation, and in every other,
those disorders which have finally roused you. It is by returning to this rule
that you may reform them, and reorganize a happy order of society.
But observe, this reorganization will occasion a violent shock in your
habits, your fortunes, and your prejudices. Vicious contracts and abusive claims
must be dissolved, unjust distinctions and ill founded property renounced; you
must indeed recur for a moment to a state of nature. Consider whether you can
consent to so many sacrifices.
Then, reflecting on the cupidity inherent in the heart of man, I thought that
this people would renounce all ideas of amelioration.
But, in a moment, a great number of men, advancing toward the pyramid, made a
solemn abjuration of all their distinctions and all their riches.
Establish for us, said they, the laws of equality and liberty; we will
possess nothing in future but on the title of justice.
Equality, liberty, justice,--these shall be our code, and shall be written on
And the people immediately raised a great standard, inscribed with these
three words, in three different colors. They displayed it over the pyramid of
the legislators, and for the first time the flag of universal justice floated on
the face of the earth.
And the people raised before the pyramid a new altar, on which they placed a
golden balance, a sword, and a book with this inscription:
TO EQUAL LAW, WHICH JUDGES AND PROTECTS
And having surrounded the pyramid and the altar with a vast amphitheatre, all
the people took their seats to hear the publication of the law. And millions of
men, raising at once their hands to heaven, took the solemn oath to live equal,
free, and just; to respect their reciprocal properties and rights; to obey the
law and its regularly chosen representatives.
A spectacle so impressive and sublime, so replete with generous emotions,
moved me to tears; and addressing myself to the Genius, I exclaimed: Let me now
live, for in future I have everything to hope.
CONSTERNATION AND CONSPIRACY OF TYRANTS
But scarcely had the solemn voice of liberty and equality resounded through
the earth, when a movement of confusion, of astonishment, arose in different
nations. On the one hand, the people, warmed with desire, but wavering between
hope and fear, between the sentiment of right and the habit of obedience, began
to be in motion. The kings, on the other hand, suddenly awakened from the sleep
of indolence and despotism, were alarmed for the safety of their thrones; while,
on all sides, those clans of civil and religious tyrants, who deceive kings and
oppress the people, were seized with rage and consternation; and, concerting
their perfidious plans, they said: Woe to us, if this fatal cry of liberty comes
to the ears of the multitude! Woe to us, if this pernicious spirit of justice be
And, pointing to the floating banner, they continued:
Consider what a swarm of evils are included in these three words! If all men
are equal, where is our exclusive right to honors and to power? If all men are
to be free, what becomes of our slaves, our vassals, our property? If all are
equal in the civil state, where is our prerogative of birth, of inheritance? and
what becomes of nobility? If they are all equal in the sight of God, what need
of mediators?--where is the priesthood? Let us hasten, then, to destroy a germ
so prolific, and so contagious. We must employ all our cunning against this
innovation. We must frighten the kings, that they may join us in the cause. We
must divide the people by national jealousies, and occupy them with commotions,
wars, and conquests. They must be alarmed at the power of this free nation. Let
us form a league against the common enemy, demolish that sacrilegious standard,
overturn that throne of rebellion, and stifle in its birth the flame of
And, indeed, the civil and religious tyrants of nations formed a general
combination; and, multiplying their followers by force and seduction, they
marched in hostile array against the free nation; and, surrounding the altar and
the pyramid of natural law, they demanded with loud cries:
What is this new and heretical doctrine? what this impious altar, this
sacrilegious worship? True believers and loyal subjects! can you suppose that
truth has been first discovered to-day, and that hitherto you have been walking
in error? that those men, more fortunate than you, have the sole privilege of
wisdom? And you, rebel and misguided nation, perceive you not that your new
leaders are misleading you? that they destroy the principles of your faith, and
overturn the religion of your ancestors? Ah, tremble! lest the wrath of heaven
should kindle against you; and hasten by speedy repentance to retrieve your
But, inaccessible to seduction as well as to fear, the free nation kept
silence, and rising universally in arms, assumed an imposing attitude.
And the legislator said to the chiefs of nations:
If while we walked with a bandage on our eyes the light guided our steps,
why, since we are no longer blindfold, should it fly from our search? If guides,
who teach mankind to see for themselves, mislead and deceive them, what can be
expected from those who profess to keep them in darkness?
But hark, ye leaders of nations! If you possess the truth, show it to us, and
we will receive it with gratitude, for we seek it with ardor, and have a great
interest in finding it. We are men, and liable to be deceived; but you are also
men, and equally fallible. Aid us then in this labyrinth, where the human race
has wandered for so many ages; help us to dissipate the illusion of so many
prejudices and vicious habits. Amid the shock of so many opinions which dispute
for our acceptance, assist us in discovering the proper and distinctive
character of truth. Let us this day terminate the long combat with error. Let us
establish between it and truth a solemn contest, to which we will invite the
opinions of men of all nations. Let us convoke a general assembly of the
nations. Let them be judges in their own cause; and in the debate of all
systems, let no champion, no argument, be wanting, either on the side of
prejudice or of reason; and let the sentiment of a general and common mass of
evidence give birth to a universal concord of opinions and of hearts.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE NATIONS
Thus spoke the legislator; and the multitude, seized with those emotions
which a reasonable proposition always inspires, expressed its applause; while
the tyrants, left without support, were overwhelmed with confusion.
A scene of a new and astonishing nature then opened to my view. All that the
earth contains of people and of nations; men of every race and of every region,
converging from their various climates, seemed to assemble in one allotted
place; where, forming an immense congress, distinguished in groups by the vast
variety of their dresses, features, and complexion, the numberless multitude
presented a most unusual and affecting sight.
On one side I saw the European, with his short close coat, pointed triangular
hat, smooth chin, and powdered hair; on the other side the Asiatic, with a
flowing robe, long beard, shaved head, and round turban. Here stood the nations
of Africa, with their ebony skins, their woolly hair, their body girt with white
and blue tissues of bark, adorned with bracelets and necklaces of coral, shells,
and glass; there the tribes of the north, enveloped in their leathern bags; the
Laplander, with his pointed bonnet and his snow-shoes; the Samoyede, with his
feverish body and strong odor; the Tongouse, with his horned cap, and carrying
his idols pendant from his neck; the Yakoute, with his freckled face; the
Kalmuc, with his flat nose and little retorted eyes. Farther distant were the
Chinese, attired in silk, with their hair hanging in tresses; the Japanese, of
mingled race; the Malays, with wide-spreading ears, rings in their noses, and
palm-leaf hats of vast circumference;* and the tattooed races of the isles of
the southern ocean and of the continent of the antipodes.** The view of so many
varieties of the same species, of so many extravagant inventions of the same
understanding, and of so many modifications of the same organization, affected
me with a thousand feelings and a thousand thoughts.*** I contemplated with
astonishment this gradation of color, which, passing from a bright carnation to
a light brown, a deeper brown, dusky, bronze, olive, leaden, copper, ends in the
black of ebony and of jet. And finding the Cassimerian, with his rosy cheek,
next to the sun-burnt Hindoo, and the Georgian by the side of the Tartar, I
reflected on the effects of climate hot or cold, of soil high or low, marshy or
dry, open or shaded. I compared the dwarf of the pole with the giant of the
temperate zones, the slender body of the Arab with the ample chest of the
Hollander; the squat figure of the Samoyede with the elegant form of the Greek
and the Sclavonian; the greasy black wool of the Negro with the bright silken
locks of the Dane; the broad face of the Kalmuc, his little angular eyes and
flattened nose, with the oval prominent visage, large blue eyes, and aquiline
nose of the Circassian and Abazan. I contrasted the brilliant calicoes of the
Indian, the well-wrought stuffs of the European, the rich furs of the Siberian,
with the tissues of bark, of osiers, leaves and feathers of savage nations; and
the blue figures of serpents, flowers, and stars, with which they painted their
bodies. Sometimes the variegated appearance of this multitude reminded me of the
enamelled meadows of the Nile and the Euphrates, when, after rains or
inundations, millions of flowers are rising on every side. Sometimes their
murmurs and their motions called to mind the numberless swarms of locusts which,
issuing from the desert, cover in the spring the plains of Hauran.
* This species of the palm-tree is called Latanier. Its leaf, similar to a
fan-mount, grows upon a stalk issuing directly from the earth. A specimen may be
seen in the botanic garden.
** The country of the Papons of New Guinea.
*** A hall of costumes in one of the galleries of the Louvre would, in every
point of view, be an interesting establishment. It would furnish an admirable
treat to the curiosity of a great number of persons, excellent models to the
artist, and useful subjects of meditation to the physician, the philosopher and
Picture to yourself a collection of the various faces and figures of every
country and nation, exhibiting accurately, color, features and form; what a
field for investigation and enquiry as to the influence of climate, customs,
food, etc. It might truly be called the science of man! Buffon has attempted a
chapter of this nature, but it only serves to exhibit more strikingly our actual
ignorance. Such a collection is said to have been begun at St. Petersburg, but
it is also said at the same time to be as imperfect as the vocabulary of the
three hundred languages. The enterprise would be worthy of the French
At the sight of so many rational beings, considering on the one hand the
immensity of thoughts and sensations assembled in this place, and on the other
hand, reflecting on the opposition of so many opinions, and the shock of so many
passions of men so capricious, I struggled between astonishment, admiration, and
secret dread--when the legislator commanded silence, and attracted all my
Inhabitants of earth! a free and powerful nation addresses you with words of
justice and peace, and she offers you the sure pledges of her intentions in her
own conviction and experience. Long afflicted with the same evils as yourselves,
we sought for their source, and found them all derived from violence and
injustice, erected into law by the inexperience of past ages, and maintained by
the prejudices of the present. Then abolishing our artificial and arbitrary
institutions, and recurring to the origin of all right and reason, we have found
that there existed in the very order of nature and in the physical constitution
of man, eternal and immutable laws, which only waited his observance to render
O men! cast your eyes on the heavens that give you light, and on the earth
that gives you bread! Since they offer the same bounties to you all--since from
the power that gives them motion you have all received the same life, the same
organs, have you not likewise all received the same right to enjoy its benefits?
Has it not hereby declared you all equal and free? What mortal shall dare refuse
to his fellow that which nature gives him?
O nations! let us banish all tyranny and all discord; let us form but one
society, one great family; and, since human nature has but one constitution, let
there exist in future but one law, that of nature--but one code, that of
reason--but one throne, that of justice--but one altar, that of union.
He ceased; and an immense acclamation resounded to the skies. Ten thousand
benedictions announced the transports of the multitude; and they made the earth
re-echo JUSTICE, EQUALITY and UNION.
But different emotions soon succeeded; soon the doctors and the chiefs of
nations exciting a spirit of dispute, there was heard a sullen murmur, which
growing louder, and spreading from group to group, became a vast disorder; and
each nation setting up exclusive pretensions, claimed a preference for its own
code and opinion.
You are in error, said the parties, pointing one to the other. We alone are
in possession of reason and truth. We alone have the true law, the real rule of
right and justice, the only means of happiness and perfection. All other men are
either blind or rebellious.
And great agitation prevailed.
Then the legislator, after enforcing silence, loudly exclaimed:
What, O people! is this passionate emotion? Whither will this quarrel conduct
you? What can you expect from this dissension? The earth has been for ages a
field of disputation, and you have shed torrents of blood in your controversies.
What have you gained by so many battles and tears? When the strong has subjected
the weak to his opinion, has he thereby aided the cause of truth?
O nations! take counsel of your own wisdom. When among yourselves disputes
arise between families and individuals, how do you reconcile them? Do you not
give them arbitrators?
Yes, cried the whole multitude.
Do so then to the authors of your present dissensions. Order those who call
themselves your instructors, and who force their creeds upon you, to discuss
before you their reasons. Since they appeal to your interests, inform yourselves
how they support them.
And you, chiefs and governors of the people! before dragging the masses into
the quarrels resulting from your diverse opinions, let the reasons for and
against your views be given. Let us establish one solemn controversy, one public
scrutiny of truth--not before the tribunal of a corruptible individual, or of a
prejudiced party, but in the grand forum of mankind--guarded by all their
information and all their interests. Let the natural sense of the whole human
race be our arbiter and judge.
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
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 characters:
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 sword.
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
* 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
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 of paradise.
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
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 sight.
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 of faith.
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
* Luther and Calvin.
** 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 drunken Helots.
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
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 all.
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
* 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 is Mobed.
** 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
*** 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
* 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 high-priest.*6
* 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
**** 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
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 sledge.***
* 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
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.
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