Pagan and Christian Creeds HTML version

8. Pagan Initiations And The Second Birth
We have suggested in the last chapter how the conceptions of Sin and Sacrifice
coming down to us from an extremely remote past, and embodied among the
various peoples of the world sometimes in crude and bloodthirsty rites,
sometimes in symbols and rituals of a gentler and more gracious character,
descended at last into Christianity and became a part of its creed and of the
creed of the modern world. On the whole perhaps we may trace a slow
amelioration in this process and may flatter ourselves that the Christian centuries
exhibit a more philosophical understanding of what Sin is, and a more humane
conception of what Sacrifice SHOULD be, than the centuries preceding. But I
fear tht any very decided statement or sweeping generalization to that effect
would be--to say the least--rash. Perhaps there IS a very slow amelioration; but
the briefest glance at the history of the Christian churches--the horrible rancours
and revenges of the clergy and the sects against each other in the fourth and fifth
centuries A.D., the heresy-hunting crusades at Beziers and other places and the
massacres of the Albigenses in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the witch-
findings and burnings of the sixteenth and seventeenth, the hideous science-
urged and bishop-blessed warfare of the twentieth --horrors fully as great as any
we can charge to the account of the Aztecs or the Babylonians--must give us
pause. Nor must we forget that if there is by chance a substantial amelioration in
our modern outlook with regard to these matters the same had begun already
before the advent of Christianity and can by no means be ascribed to any
miraculous influence of that religion. Abraham was prompted to slay a ram as a
substitute for his son, long before the Christians were thought of; the rather
savage Artemis of the old Greek rites was (according to Pausanias)[1] honored
by the yearly sacrifice of a perfect boy and girl, but later it was deemed sufficient
to draw a knife across their throats as a symbol, with the result of spilling only a
few drops of their blood, or to flog the boys (with the same result) upon her altar.
Among the Khonds in old days many victims (meriahs) were sacrificed to the
gods, "but in time the man was replaced by a horse, the horse by a bull, the bull
by a ram, the ram by a kid, the kid by fowls, and the fowls by many flowers."[2] At
one time, according to the Yajur-Veda, there was a festival at which one hundred
and twenty-five victims, men and women, boys and girls, were sacrificed; "but
reform supervened, and now the victims were bound as before to the stake, but
afterwards amid litanies to the immolated (god) Narayana, the sacrificing priest
brandished a knife and --severed the bonds of the captives."[3] At the Athenian
festival of the Thargelia, to which I referred in the last chapter, it appears that the
victims, in later times, instead of being slain, were tossed from a height into the
sea, and after being rescued were then simply banished; while at Leucatas a
similar festival the fall of the victim was graciously broken by tying feathers and
even living birds to his body.[4]
[1] vii. 19, and iii. 8, 16.