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Serpent-Worship, and Other Essays, with a Chapter on Totemism

Serpent-Worship, and Other Essays, with a Chapter on Totemism
Title: Serpent-Worship, and Other Essays, with a Chapter on Totemism
Release Date: 2018-05-13
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Rivers of Life 1
Phallism in Ancient Religions 8
The Origin of Serpent-Worship 81
The Adamites 107
The Descendants of Cain 128
Sacred Prostitution 149
Marriage among Primitive Peoples 165
Marriage by Capture 180iv
Development of the “Family” 192
The Social Position of Woman as affected by “Civilisation” 219
Spiritism and Modern Spiritualism 233
Totems and Totemism 247
Man and the Ape 278



The lines of development of the religious faiths ofmankind have been aptly termed by Major-GeneralForlong “Rivers of Life.” The streams of faiths aremarvellously depicted by this writer in a chart whichshows “the rise and fall of the various religious ideas,mythologies, and rites which have at any time prevailedamong nations.” This chart ingeniously shows, moreover,“the degrees of intensity manifested at statedperiods by any particular wave of doctrine or worship,and the mode in which the tributary streams of mythologicalor theological thought become in turn absorbedin the central River of Life.” The views adopted byGeneral Forlong have much in common with thoseembodied in the works of Godfrey Higgins and somelater writers, but they have a special value as beingbased on personal observation. The author of “Riversof Life” had the inestimable advantage of being admittedto shrines and of receiving instructions in sacredmysteries which are generally closed to Europeaninquirers, and of having made2 “a diligent explorationof ruined temples, pillars, and mounds, and all suchtraces of a primitive symbolism, which lie scatteredover the East and West, as religious fossils underlyingthe superficial crust of theological strata.”

Rivers of religious life have a beginning, like otherstreams, and what are the sources to which man’sprimitive faiths may be traced? The early “symbolicobjects of man’s adoration” are arranged by GeneralForlong in the following order: First, Tree; 2nd,Phallic; 3rd, Serpent; 4th, Fire; 5th, Sun; 6th,Ancestral. The first “breathings of the human soul”were manifested under the sacred tree or grove,whose refreshing shade is so highly valued in the East.All nations, particularly the Aryan peoples, have consideredtree-planting a sacred duty, and the grove wasman’s first temple, “and became a sanctuary, asylum,or place of refuge, and as time passed on, templescame to be built in the sacred groves.” If tree-worshiphad such an origin as this, its origin ought to be shownin the ideas associated with it. What, then, are thoseideas? General Forlong, after referring to Dr. Fergusson’sstatement that the tree and serpent aresymbolised in every religious system which the worldhas known, says that the two together are typical ofthe reproductive powers of vegetable and animal life.The connection between tree and serpent-worship isoften so intimate that we may expect one to throwlight on the other. The Aryans generally may becalled “tree-worshippers,” and according to Fergussonthey as a rule destroyed serpents and serpent-worshippingraces. Yet at Athens and near Rome boththose faiths flourished together, as they appear to havedone also in many parts of Western Asia. They areintimately associated with religious notions of manyBuddhist peoples. This is shown curiously in theearly legends of Kambodia. These are said by General3Forlong to present two striking features. First, aholy tree, which the kingly race, who came to thisserpent country, reposed under, or descended fromheaven by; secondly, that this tree-loving race are captivatedby the dragon princess of the land. It is theserpent king, however, who builds the city of NakonThom for his daughter and her stranger husband. Itis not improbable that Buddhism originated among apeople who were both tree and serpent-worshippers,although the former became more intimately and atan earlier period associated with its founder.

Let us now see what ideas are symbolised by theserpent. We are told that he is “an emblem of theSun, Time, Kronos, and Eternity.” The serpent was,indeed, the Sun-God, or spirit of the sun, and thereforePower, Wisdom, Light, and a fit type of creation andgenerative power. Dr. Donaldson came to the conclusionthat the serpent has always a Phallic significance,a remark which exactly accords with GeneralForlong’s experience, “founded simply upon closeobservation in Eastern lands, and conclusions drawnby himself, unaided by books or teachers, from thousandsof stories and conversations with Eastern priestsand people.” The testimony of a competent andhonest observer is all important, and we must believewhen we are told that the serpent, or the constantearly attendant on the Lingam, is the special symbolwhich veils the actual God. The same may be said,indeed, of Tree Worship, and as tree-worship andserpent-worship embrace the Phallic faith, the firstthree streams of faiths are represented by them. Itis evident, however, that Phallic ideas are at the4foundation of both tree and serpent-worship, and thePhallic stream of faith should be given the first place asthe actual source of the Rivers of Life. General Forlongdoes, indeed, affirm that Phallic worship enters soclosely into union with all faiths to the present hourthat it is impossible to keep it out of view. We canwell understand how this should be as to the tree,serpent, and solar cults, but it is not so evident at firstsight in relation to fire-worship. If fire was, however,regarded as the servant of Siva, and all creating gods,there is no difficulty in accepting the position. Theobject of the worship offered to the sacred fire is consistentwith that view. Thus Greeks, Romans, andHindoos “besought Agni by fervent prayers for increaseof flocks and families, for happy lives and sereneold age, for wisdom and pardon from sin.” GeneralForlong appears to see in the worship of fire essentiallya household faith, and this was undoubtedly soif his explanation of the Lares and Penates is correct.These symbols represented “the past vital fire or energyof the tribe, as the patriarch, his stalwart sons anddaughters did that of the present living fire the sacredhearth.” General Forlong states, indeed, that everythingrelating to blood used to be connected with fire,and he supposed, therefore, that agnatio may havebeen relation by fire, for the agnati can only be those ofthe fire or father’s side.

If the father derived his authority in the householdfrom the sacred hearth-fire, we can understand whyGeneral Forlong has assigned to ancestor-worship thelast place in his scheme. He says, moreover, thatancestor-worship is “a development and sequence of5that idiosyncracy of man which has led him to worshipand deify even the living—that which, according tothe teaching of Euemerus, accounts for all the mythologicaltales of the gods and god-like men of Greece.”The ancestor was worshipped in the great chief, theFather of Fathers, each of whom was worshipped in theDii Gentiles of his own class, and this not only duringthe comparatively modern Roman sway, but during theages of serpent, fire, and solar faiths. In the still earlierfaiths he was represented in the rude pillar, as well asin the little Lares and Penates of the hearths. In thiscase, however, ancestor-worship would seem to beentitled to stand on the same level as tree-worshipand serpent-worship as a phase of the Phallic faith.In fact, it is in a sense identified with serpent-worship.General Forlong remarks that among the Greeks andRomans “the ancestor came to be honoured and worshippedonly as the Generator, and so also the serpentas his symbol.” This agrees with the conclusion I haveelsewhere endeavoured to establish, that the serpentis really regarded as the representative of the ancestor,in which case ancestor-worship is a very primitivefaith, although, in a specialised form, it may possibly,as asserted by General Forlong, come later than fire-worship.

It can hardly now be doubted that the same ideasunderlie all the early faiths. This view is entertainedby General Forlong, who says:6 “So imperceptiblyarose the serpent on pure Phallic faiths, fire on these,and sun on all, and so intimately did all blend with oneanother, that even in the ages of true history it wasoften impossible to descry the exact God alluded to.”The foundations of all those faiths, and of ancestor-worshipas allied to them, must therefore be sought inthe ideas entertained by mankind in the earliest times,“when the races lived untaught, herded with theircattle, and had as their sole object in life the multiplicationof these and of themselves.” The questionarises, however, whether the simple faith which manthen entertained was the earliest he had evolved.General Forlong answers this question in the negative,for he says, then referring to the serpent Buddhism ofKambodia, that “Fetish worship was the first worship,and to a great extent is still the real faith of theignorant, especially about these parts.” He finds thatnearly one quarter of the world yet deifies, or at leastreverences, sticks and stones, rams’ horns and charms,a practice not unknown even to later faiths. Thefundamental belief which furnishes the key to thosephenomena, as well as to the animal-worship which isso closely associated with one or other of the greatfaith streams, should not be lost sight of. JacobGrimm pointed out, in his “Teutonic Mythology,”1that all nature was thought of by the heathen Germansas living. Gods and men transformed themselves intotrees, plants, or beasts; spirits and elements attainedanimal forms; and therefore we cannot wonder at theheavenly bodies, and even day and night, summer andwinter, being actually personified. These ideas lendthemselves as well to fetishism as to sun-worship, andall the ancient faiths alike may justly, therefore, beregarded as phases of one universal nature-worship.Mankind prays only for that which is thought good,7and if one man seeks to obtain his desire through theagency of a stick or a stone, and another through aserpent or planetary god, the difference between themis purely objective. The prayers which were offeredto the Vedic gods would be equally appropriate in themouth of a native of Western Africa. They hadrelation simply to temporal needs, and were, saysMr. Talboys Wheeler,2 for plenty of rain, abundantharvests, and prolific cattle, for bodily vigour, longlife, numerous offspring, and protection against all foesand robbers. Moreover, the observances of the moreadvanced faiths have little practical difference fromthe fetishist. All alike have for their object the compellingthe good countenance, or counteracting the evildesigns, of the gods or spirits, and the real differenceis to be sought in the symbols under which they arerepresented. Thus the Vedic Aryans regarded theirdeified abstractions as personified with human wants,and invoked them with rites which “may have formedan accompaniment to every meal, and may have beenregarded almost as a part of the cooking.” Mr. Wheeleradds3 that8 “Sometimes a deity is supposed to beattracted by the grateful sound of the stone and mortarby which the soma juice was expressed from the plant,or by the musical noise of the churning sticks by whichthe wine was apparently stirred up and mixed withcurds; and the eager invokers implore the god not toturn aside to the dwelling of any other worshipper,but to come to them only, and drink the libationwhich they had prepared, and reserve for them all hisfavours and benefits.”


Dr. Faber, when treating of the ancient mysteriesin opposition to Bishop Warburton’s views of theiroriginal purity, says:9 “Long before the time ofApuleius, whom he (Warburton) would describe asquitting the impure orgies of the Syrian Goddess forthe blameless initiations of Isis, did the Phallic processions,if we may credit Herodotus and Diodorus,form

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