WHAT did the Eleusinia mean? Perhaps, reader, you think the question of little interest. “The Eleusinia! Why, Lobeek made that little matter clear long ago; and there was Porphyry, who told us that the whole thing was only an illustration of the Platonic philosophy. St. Croix, too,—he made the affair as clear as day!”
But the question is not so easily settled, my friend; and I insist upon it that you have an interest in it. Were I to ask you the meaning of Freemasonry, you would think that of importance; you could not utter the name without wonder; and it may be that there is even more wonder in it than you suspect, —though you be an arch-mason yourself. But in sight of Eleusis, freemasonry sinks into insignificance. For, of all races, the Grecian was the most mysterious; and, of all Grecian mysteries, the Eleusinia were the mysteries par excellence. They must certainly have meant something to Greece,—something more than can ever be adequately known to us. A farce is soon over; but the Eleusinia reached from the mythic Eumolpus to Theodosius the Great,—nearly two thousand years. Think you that all Athens, every fifth year, for more than sixty generations, went to Eleusis to witness and take part in a sham?
But, reader, let us go to Eleusis, and see, for ourselves, this great festival. Suppose it to be the 15th of September, B. C. 411, Anno Mundi 3593 (though we would not make oath to that). It is a fine morning at Athens, and every one is astir, for it is the day of assembling together at Eleusis. Then, for company, we shall have Plato, now eighteen years old, Sophocles, an old man of eighty-four, Euripides, at sixty-nine, and Aristophanes, at forty-five. Socrates, who has his peculiar notions about things, is not one of the initiated, but will go with us, if we ask him. These are the élite of Athens. Then there are the Sophists and their young disciples, and the vast crowd of the Athenian people. Some of the oldest among them may have seen and heard the “Prometheus Vinctus”; certainly very many of them have seen “Antigone,” and “Œdipus,” and "Electra”; and all of them have heard the Rhapsodists. Great wonders have they seen and heard, which, in their appeal to the heart, transcend all the wonders of this nineteenth century. Not more fatal to the poor Indian was modern civilization, bringing swift ruin to his wigwam and transforming his hunting-grounds into the sites of populous cities, than modern improvements would have been to the Greek. Modern strategy! What a subject for Homer would the siege of Troy have been, had it consisted of a series of pitched battles with rifles! Railways, steamboats, and telegraphs, annihilating space and time, would also have annihilated the Argonautic expedition and the wanderings; of Ulysses. There would have been little fear, in a modern steamship, of the Sirens’ song; one whistle would have broken the charm. A modern steamship might have borne Ulysses to Hades;—but it would never have brought him back, as his own ship did. And how do you think a ride to Eleusis by railway to-day would strike this Athenian populace, to say nothing of the philosophers and poets we have along with us?
But they are thinking of Eleusis, and not of the way to Eleusis; so that we may as well keep our suggestion to ourselves, —also those pious admonitions which we were just about to administer to our companions on heathenish superstitions. A strange fascination these Athenians have; and before we are aware, our thoughts, too, are centred in Eleusis, whither are tending, not Athens only, but vast multitudes from all Greece. Their movement is tumultuous; but it is a tumult of natural enthusiasm, and not of Bacchic frenzy. If Athens be, as Milton calls her, "the eye of Greece,” surely Eleusis must be its heart!
There are nine days of the festival. This first is the day of the agurmos, (ɑγυρμóς) or assembling together the flux of Grecian life into the secret chambers of its Eleusinian heart. To-morrow is the day of purification; then, “To the sea, all ye that are initiated!” ('Aλɑδε, μύστɑι!) lest any come with the stain of impurity to the mysteries of God. The third day is the day of sacrifices, that the heart also may be made pure, when are offered barley from the fields of Eleusis and a mullet. All other sacrifices may be tasted; but this is for Demeter alone, and not to be touched by mortal lips. On the fourth day, we join the procession bearing the sacred basket of the goddess, filled with curious symbols, grains of salt, carded wool, sesame, pomegranates, and poppies,—symbols of the gifts of our Great Mother and of her mighty sorrow. On the night of the fifth, we are lost in the hurrying tumult of the torch-light processions. Then there is the sixth day, the great day of all, when from Athens the statue of Iacchus (Bacchus) is borne, crowned with myrtle, tumultuously through the sacred gate, along the sacred way, halting by the sacred figtree, (all sacred, mark you, from Eleusinian associations,) where the procession rests, and then moves on to the bridge over the Cephissus, where again it rests, and where the expression of the wildest grief gives place to the trifling farce,— even as Demeter, in the midst of her grief, smiled at the levity of Iambe in the palace of Celeus. Through the “mystical entrance” we enter Eleusis. On the seventh day, games are celebrated; and to the victor is given a measure of barley,—as it were a gift direct from the hand of the goddess. The eighth is sacred to Æsculapius, the Divine Physician, who heals all diseases; and in the evening is performed the initiatory ritual.
Let us enter the mystic temple and be initiated,—though it must be supposed that a year ago we were initiated into the Lesser Mysteries at Agræ. (“Certamen enim,—et prœludium certaminis; et mysteria sunt quœ prœcedunt mysteria.”) We must have been mystœ (veiled) before we can become epoptœ (seers); in plain English, we must have shut our eyes to all else before we can behold the mysteries. Crowned with myrtle, we enter with the other mystœ into the vestibule of the temple,—blind as yet, but the Hierophant within will soon open our eyes.
But first,—for here we must do nothing rashly,—first we must wash in this holy water; for it is with pure hands and a pure heart that we are bidden to enter the most sacred inclosure. Then, led into the presence of the Hierophant, he reads to us, from a book of stone, things which we must not divulge on pain of death. Let it suffice that they fit the place and the occasion; and though you might laugh at them, if they were spoken outside, still you seem very far from that mood now, as you hear the words of the old man (for old he always was) and look upon the revealed symbols. And very far indeed are you from ridicule, when Demeter seals, by her own peculiar utterances and signals, by vivid coruscations of light, and cloud piled upon cloud, all that we have seen and heard from her sacred priest; and when, finally, the light of a serene wonder fills the temple, and we see the pure fields of Elysium and hear the choirs of the Blessed;—then, not merely by external seeming or philosophic interpretation, but in real fact, does the Hierophant become the Creator and Revealer of all things; the Sun is but his torch-bearer, the Moon his attendant at the altar, and Hermes his mystic herald. But the final word has been uttered: "Conx Ompax.” The rite is consummated, and we are epopiœ forever!
One day more, and the Eleusinia themselves are completed. As in the beginning by lustration and sacrifices we conciliated the favor of the gods, so now by libation we finally commend ourselves to their care. Thus did the Greeks begin all things with lustration and end with libation, each day, each feast,—all their solemn treaties, their ceremonies, and sacred festivals. But, like all else Eleusinian, this libation must be sui generis, emptied from two bowls,—the one toward the East, the other toward the West. Thus is finished this Epos, or, as Clemens Alexandrinus calls it, the “mystical drama” of the Eleusinia.
Now, reader, you have seen the Mysteries. And what do they mean? Let us take care lest we deceive ourselves, as many before us have done, by merely looking at the Eleusinia.
Oh, this everlasting staring! This it is that leads us astray. That old stargazer, with whom Æsop has made us acquainted, deserved, indeed, to fall into the well, no less for his profanity than his stupidity. Yet this same star-gazing it is that we miscall reflection. Thus, in our blank wonder at Nature,—in our naked analysis of her life, expressed through long lists of genera and species and mathematical calculations, as if we were calling off the roll of creation, or as if her depth of meaning rested in her vast orbs and incalculable velocities, —in all this we fail of her real mystery.
To mere external seeming, the Eleusinia point to Demeter for their interpretation. To her are they consecrated,— of her grief are they commemorative; out of reverence to her do the mystœ purify themselves by lustration and by the sacrifice that may not be tasted; she it is who is symbolized, in the procession of the basket, as our Great Mother, through the salt, wool, and sesame, which point to her bountiful gifts,—while by the poppies and pomegranates it is hinted that she nourishes in her heart some profound sorrow: by the former, that she seeks to bury this sorrow in eternal oblivion,— by the latter, that it must be eternally reiterated. The procession of the torches defines the sorrow; and by this wild, despairing search in the darkness do we know that her daughter Proserpine, plucking flowers in the fields of light, has been snatched by ruthless Pluto to the realm of the Invisible. Then by the procession of Iacchus we learn that divine aid has come to the despairing Demeter; by the coming of Æsculapius shall all her wounds be healed; and the change in the evening from the mystœ to epoptœ is because that now to Demeter, the cycle of her grief being accomplished, the ways of Jove are made plain,— even his permission of violence from unseen hands; to her also is the final libation.
But the story of the stolen Proserpina is itself an afterthought, a fable invented to explain the Mysteries; and, however much it may have modified them in detail, certainly could not have been their ground. Nor is the sorrowing Demeter herself adequate to the solution. For the Eleusinia are older than Eleusis,— older than Demeter, even the Demeter of Thrace,—certainly as old as Isis, who was to Egypt what Demeter was to Greece,—the Great Mother1 of a thousand names, who also had her endlessly repeated sorrow for the loss of Osiris, and in honor of whom the Egyptians held an annual festival. Thus we only remove the mystery back to the very verge of myth itself; and we must either give up the solution or take a different course. But perhaps Isis will reveal herself, and at the same time unveil the Mysteries. Let us read her tablet: “I am all that has been, all that is, all that is to be; and the veil which is over my face no mortal hand hath ever raised!” Now, reader, would it not be strange, if, in solving her mystery, we should also solve the Sphinx's riddle? But so it is. This is the Sphinx in her eldest shape,—this Isis of a thousand names; and the answer to her ever-recurring riddle is always the same. In the Human Spirit is infolded whatsoever has been, is, or shall be; and mortality cannot reveal it!
Not to Demeter, then, nor even to Isis, do the Eleusinia primarily point, but to the human heart. We no longer look at them; henceforth they are within us. Long has this mystic mother, the wonder of the world, waited for the revelation of her face. Let us draw aside the veil, (not by mortal hand,—it moves at your will,)and listen:—
“I am the First and the Last,—mother of gods and men. As deep as is my mystery, so deep is my sorrow. For, lo! all generations are mine. But the fairest fruit of my Holy Garden was plucked by my mortal children; since which, Apollo among men and Artemis among women have raged with their fearful arrows. My fairest children, whom I have brought forth and nourished in the light, have been stolen by the children of darkness. By the Flood they were taken; and I wandered forty days and forty nights upon the waters, ere again I saw the face of the earth. Then, wherever I went, I brought joy; at Cyprus the grasses sprang up beneath my feet, the golden-filleted Horæ crowned me with a wreath of gold and clothed me in immortal robes. Then, also, was renewed my grief; for Adonis, whom I had chosen, was slain in the chase and carried to Hades. Six months I wept his loss, when he rose again and I triumphed. Thus in Egypt I mourned for Osiris, for Atys in Phrygia, and for Proserpina at Eleusis,—all of whom passed to the underworld, were restored for a season, and then retaken. Thus is my sorrow repeated without end. All things are taken from me. Night treads upon the heels of Day, the desolation of Winter wastes the fair fruit of Summer, and Death walks in the ways of Life with inexorable claims. But at the last, through Him, my First-begotten and my Best-beloved, who also died and descended into Hades, and the third day rose again,—through Him, having ceased from wandering, I shall triumph in Infinite Joy!”
That, reader, is not so difficult to translate into human language. Thus, from the beginning to the end of the world, do these Mysteries, under various names, shadow forth the great problem of human life, which problem, as being fundamental, must be religious, the same that is shadowed forth in Nature and Revelation, namely: man’s sin, and his redemption from sin,—his great loss, his infinite error, and his final salvation.
Sorrow, so strong a sense of which pervaded these Mysteries that it was the name (Achtheia) by which Demeter was known to her mystic worshippers,—human sorrow it was which veiled the eyelids; toward which veiling (or muesis) the lotus about the head of Isis and the poppy in the hand of Demeter distinctly point. Hence the mystœ, whom the reader must suppose to have closed their eyes to all without them,—even to Nature, except as in sympathy she mirrors forth the central sorrow of their hearts. But this same sorrow and its mighty work, veiled from all mortal vision, shut out by very necessity from any sympathy save that of God, is a preparation for a purer vision,—a second initiation, in which the eyes shall be reopened and the mystœ become epoptœ; and of such significance was this higher vision to the Greek, that it was a synonyme for the highest earthly happiness and a foretaste of Elysium.
As this vision of the epoptœ was the vision of real faith, so the muesis, or veiling of the mystœ, was no mere affectation of mysticism. Not so easily could be set aside this weight of sorrow upon the eyelids, which, notwithstanding that, leading to self, it leads to wandering, leads also through Divine aid to that peace which passeth all understanding. Thus were the Hebrews led out of Egyptian bondage through wanderings in the Wilderness to the Promised Land. Even thus, through rites and ceremonies which to us are hieroglyphics hard to be deciphered, which are known only as shrouded in infinite sorrow,—as dimly shadowing forth some wild search in darkness and some final resurrection into light,— through these, many from Egypt and India and Scythia, from Scandinavia and from the aboriginal forests of America, have for unnumbered ages passed from a world of bewildering error to the heaven of their hopes. To the eye of sense and to shallow infidelity, this may seem absurd; but the foolishness of man is the wisdom of God to the salvation of His erring children. Happy, indeed, are the initiated! Blessed are the poor in spirit, the Pariah, and the slave,—all they whose eyes are veiled with overshadowing sorrow! for only thus is revealed the glory of human life!
There are many things, kind reader, which, in our senseless staring, we may call the signs of human weakness, but which, by a higher interpretation, become revelations of human power. The gross and pitiable features of the world are dissolved and clarified, when by an impassioned sympathy we can penetrate to the heart of things. We are about to pity the ragged vesture, the feeble knees, and the beseeching hand of poverty, and the cries of the oppressed and the weary; but, at a thought, Pity is slain by Reverence. We are ready to cry out against the sluggish movement of the world and its lazy flux of life; but before the satire is spoken, we are fascinated by an undercurrent of this same world, earnest and full toward its sure goal,—of which, indeed, we only dream; but “the dream is from God,”2 and surer than sight. There is a profounder calm than appears to the eye, in the quiet cottages scattered up and down among the peaceful valleys; the rest of death is more untroubled than the marble face which it leaves as its visible symbol; and sleep, "the minor mystery of death,” (ῦπνος τà μικρà τοῦ ϑɑνáτου μυστήριɑ,3) has a deeper significance than is revealed in any external token. So what is sneeringly called the credulity of human nature is its holy faith, and, in spite of all the hard facts which you may charge upon it, is the glory of man. It introduces us into that region where “nothing is unexpected, nothing impossible.”4 It was the glory of our childhood, and by it childhood is made immortal. Myth herself is ever a child,—a genuine child of the earth, indeed,—but received among men as the child of Heaven.
Upon the slightest material basis have been constructed myths and miracles and fairy-tales without number; and so it must ever be. Thus man asserts his own inherent strength of imagination and faith over against the external fact. Whatsoever is facile to Imagination is also facile to Faith. Easy, therefore, in our thoughts, is the transition from the Cinder-wench in the ashes to the Cinderella of the palace; easy the apotheosis of the slave, and the passage from the weary earth to the fields of Elysium and the Isles of the Blessed.
This flight of the Imagination, this vision of Faith,—these, reader, are only for the epoptœ. It matters not, that, by naked analysis, you can prove that the palaces of our fancy and the temples of our faith are but the baseless fabric of a dream. It may be that the greater part of life is made up of dreams, and that wakefulness is merely incidental as a relief to the picture. It may be, indeed, in the last analysis, that the ideal is the highest, if not the only real.
For the sensible, palpable fact can, by the nature of things, exist for us only in the Present. But, my dear reader, it is just here, in this Present, that the tenure by which we have hold upon life is the most frail and shadowy. For, by the strictest analysis, there is no Present. The formula, It is, even before we can give it utterance, by some subtile chemistry of logic, is resolved into It was and It shall be. Thus by our analysis do we retreat into the ideal. In the deepest reflection, all that we call external is only the material basis upon which our dreams are built; and the sleep that surrounds life swallows up life,—all but a dim wreck of matter, floating this way and that, and forever evanishing from sight. Complete the analysis, and we lose even the shadow of the external Present, and only the Past and the Future are left us as our sure inheritance. This is the first initiation,—the veiling of the eyes to the external. But, as epoptœ, by the synthesis of this Past and Future in a living nature, we obtain a higher, an ideal Present, comprehending within itself all that can be real for us within us or without. This is the second initiation, in which is unveiled to us the Present as a new birth from our own life.
Thus the great problem of Idealism is symbolically solved in the Eleusinia. For us there is nothing real except as we realize it. Let it be that myriads have walked upon the earth before us,—that each race and generation has wrought its change and left its monumental record upon pillar and pyramid and obelisk; set aside the ruin which Time has wrought both upon the change and the record, levelling the cities and temples of men, diminishing the shadows of the Pyramids, and rendering more shadowy the names and memories of heroes,—obliterating even its own ruin;—set aside this oblivion of Time, still there would be hieroglyphics,—still to us all that comes from this abyss of Time behind us, or from the abyss of Space around us, must be but dim and evanescent imagery and empty reverberation of sound, except as, becoming a part of our own life, by a new birth, it receives shape and significance. Nothing can be, unveiled to us till it is born of us. Thus the epoptœ are both creators and interpreters. Strength of knowledge and strength of purpose, lying at the foundation of our own nature, become also the measure of our interpretation of all Nature. Therefore in each successive cycle of human history, as we realize more completely the great Ideal, our appreciation of the Past increases, and our hope of the Future. The difference lies not in the data of history, but in what we make of the data.
We cannot see too clearly that the great problem of life, in Philosophy, Art, or Religion, is essentially the same from the beginning. Like Nature, indeed, it repeats itself under various external phases, in different ages and under different skies. History whispers from her antediluvian lips of a race of giants; so does the earth reveal mammoths and stupendous forests. But the wonder neither of Man nor of Nature was greater then than now. We say much, too, of Progress. But the progress does not consist in a change of the fundamental problem of the race; we have only learned to use our material so that we effect our changes more readily, and write our record with a finer touch and in clearer outline. The progress is in the facility and elaboration, and may be measured in Space and Time; but the Ideal is ever the same and immeasurable. Homer is hard to read; but when once you have read him you have read all poetry. Or suppose that Orpheus, instead of striving with his mythic brother Cheiron, were to engage in a musical contest with Mozart, and you, reader, were to adjudge the prize. Undoubtedly you would give the palm to Mozart. Not that Mozart is the better musician; the difficulty is all in your ear, my friend. If you could only hear the nice vibrations of the “golden shell,” you might reverse your decision.
So in Religion; the central idea, if you can only discern it, is ever the same. She no longer, indeed, looks with the bewildered gaze of her childhood to the mountains and rivers, to the sun, moon, and stars, for aid. In the fulness of time the veil is rent in twain, and she looks beyond with a clearer eye to the surer signs that are visible of her unspeakable glory. But the longing of her heart is ever the same.
What remains to us of ancient systems of faith is, for the most part, mere name and shadow. It is even more difficult for us to realize to ourselves a single ceremony of Grecian worship,—for instance, a dance in honor of Apollo,—in its subtile meaning, than it would be to appreciate the Prometheus” of Æschylus. This ignorance leads oftentimes to the most shocking profanation; and from mere lack of vision we ridicule much that should call forth our reverence.
Thus many Christian writers have sought to throw ridicule upon the Eleusinia. But we must remember, that, to Greece, throughout her whole history, they presented a well-defined system of faith,—that, essentially, they even served the function of a church by their inherent idea of divine discipline and purification and the hope which they ever held out of future resurrection and glory. Why, then, you ask, if they were so pure and full of meaning, why was not such a man as Socrates one of the Initiated? The reason, reader, was simply this: What the Eleusinia furnished to Greece, that Socrates furnished to himself. That man who could stand stock-still a whole day, lost in silent contemplation, what was the need to him of the Eleusinian veil? The most self-sufficient man in all Greece, who could find the way directly to himself and to the mystery and responsibility of his own will without the medium of external rites, to whom there were the ever-present intimations of his strange Divinity,—what need to him of the Eleusinian revealings or their sublime self-intuition (ɑὐτοψίɑ)? He had his own separate tragedy also. And when with his last words he requested that a cock be sacrificed to Æsculapius, that, reader, was to indicate, that to him had come the eighth day of the drama, in which the Great Physician brings deliverance,— and in the evening of which there should be the final unveiling of the eyes in the presence of the Great Hierophant!
Such were the Eleusinia of Greece. But what do they mean to us? We have already hinted at their connection with the Sphinx’s riddle. It is through this connection that they receive their most general significance; for this riddle is the riddle of the race, and the problem which it involves can be adequately realized only in the life of the race. To Greece, as peculiarly sensitive to all that is tragical, the Sphinx connected her questions most intimately with human sorrow, either in the individual or the household.
“Who is it,” thus the riddle ran, “who is it that in the morning creeps upon allfours, touching the earth in complete dependence,—and at noon, grown into the fulness of beauty and strength, walks erect with his face toward heaven,—but at the going down of the sun, returns again to his original frailty and dependence?”
This, answered Œdipus, is Man; and most fearfully did he realize it in his own life! In the mysteries of the Eleusinia there is the same prominence of human sorrow,—only here the Sphinx propounds her riddle in its religious phase; and in the change from the mystœ to the epoptœ in the revelation of the central self, was the great problem symbolically realized.
Greece had her reckoning; and to her eye the Sphinx long ago seemed to plunge herself headlong into precipitate destruction. But this strange lady is ever reappearing with her awful alternative: they who cannot solve her riddle must die. It is no trifling account, reader, which we have with this lady. For now her riddle has grown to fearful proportions, connecting itself with the rise and fall of empires, with the dim realm of superstition, with vast systems of philosophy and faith. And the answer is always the same: “That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been is named already,—and it is known that it is Man.”
What is it that shall explain the difference between our map of the world and that of Sesostris or Anaximander? Geological deposits, the washing away of mountains, and the change of rivercourses are certainly but trifling in such an account. But an Argonautic expedition, a Trojan siege, a Jewish exodus, Nomadic invasions, and the names of Hanno, Cæsar, William the Conqueror, and Columbus, suggest an explanation. It is the flux of human life which must account for the flowing outline of the earth’s geography. As with the terrestrial, so with the celestial. The heavens change by a subtiler movement than the precession of the equinoxes. In Job, “Behold the height of the stars, how high they are!” but to Homer they bathe in the Western seas; while to us, they are again removed to an incalculable distance,—but at the same time so near, that, in our hopes, they are the many mansions of our Father’s house, the stepping-stones to our everlasting rest.
But there is also another map, reader, more shadowy in its outline, of an invisible region, neither of the heavens nor of the earth,—but having vague relations to each, with a secret history of its own, of which now and then strange tales and traditions are softly whispered in our ear,— where each of us has been, though no two ever tell the same story of their wanderings. Strange to say, each one calls all other tales superstitions and old-wives’ fables; but observe, he always trembles when he tells his own. But they are all true; there is not one old-wife’s fable on the list. Necromancers have had private interviews with visitors who had no right to be seen this side the Styx. The Witch of Endor and the raising of Samuel were literal facts. Above all others, the Nemesis and Eumenides were facts not to be withstood. And, philosophize as we may, ghosts have been seen at dead of night, and not always under the conduct of Mercury;5 even the Salem witchcraft was very far from being a humbug. They are all true,—the gibbering ghost, the riding hag, the enchantment of wizards, and all the miracles of magic, none of which we have ever seen with the eye, but all of which we believe at heart. But who is it that weirdly draws aside the dark curtain? Who is this mystic lady, ever weaving at her loom,—weaving long ago, and weaving yet,—singing with unutterable sadness, as she interweaves with her web all the sorrows and shadowy fears that ever were or that ever shall be? We know, indeed, that she weaves the web of Fate and the curtain of the Invisible; for we have seen her work. We know, too, that she alone can show the many-colored web or draw aside the dark curtain; for we have seen her revelations. But who is she?
Ay, reader, the Sphinx puts close questions now and then; but there is only one answer that can satisfy her or avert death. This person,—the only real mystery which can exist for you,—of all things the most familiar, and at the same time the most unfamiliar,—is yourself! You need not speak in whispers. It is true, this lady has a golden quiver as well as a golden distaff; but her arrows are all for those who cannot solve her riddle.
Protagoras, then, was right; and, looking back through these twenty-two centuries, we nod assent to his grand proposition: “Man is the measure of all things, —of the possible, how it is,—of the impossible, how it is not.” In the individual life are laid the foundations of the universe, and upon each individual artist depend the symmetry and meaning of the constructed whole. This Master-Artist it is who holds the keys of life and death; and whatsoever he shall bind or loose in his consciousness shall be bound or loosed throughout the universe. Apart from him. Nature is resolved into an intangible, shapeless vanity of silence and darkness,—without a name, and, in fact, no Nature at all. To man, all Nature must be human in some soul. God himself is worshipped under a human phase; and it is here that Christianity, the flower of all Faith, furnishes the highest answer and realization of this world-riddle of the Sphinx,—here that it rests its eternal Truth, even as here it secures its unfailing appeal to the human heart!
qualifications point to this office, by which he defends the living against the invasions of the dead. Hence his craft and agility;—for who so fleet and subtle as a ghost?
The process by which any nature is realized is the process by which it is humanized. Thus are all things given to us for an inheritance. Let it be, that, apart from us, the universe sinks into insignificance and nothingness; to us it is a royal possession; and we are all kings, with a dominion as unlimited as our desire. Ubi Cœsar, ibi Roma! Rome is the world; and each man, if he will, is Cæsar.
If he will;—ay, there’s the rub! In the strength of his will lie glory and absolute sway. But if he fail, then becomes evident the frailty of his tenure,—“he is a king of shreds and patches!”
Here is the crying treachery; and thus it happens that there are slaves and craven hearts. This is the profound pathos of history, (for the Sphinx has always more or less of sadness in her face,) which enters so inevitably into all human triumphs. The monuments of Egypt, the palaces and tombs of her kings,—revelations of the strength of will,—also by inevitable suggestions call to our remembrance successive generations of slaves and their endless toil. Morn after morn, at sunrise, for thousands of years, did Memnon breathe forth his music, that his name might be remembered upon the earth; but his music was the swell of a broken harp, and his name was whispered in mournful silence! Among the embalmed dead, in urn-burials, in the midst of catacombs, and among the graves upon our hillsides and in our valleys, there lurks the same sail mockery. Surely “purple Death and the strong Fates do conquer us!" Strangely, in vast solitudes, comes over us a sense of desolation, when even the faintest adumbrations of life seem lost in the inertia of mortality. In all pomp lurks the pomp of funeral; and we do now and then pay homage to the grim skeleton king who sways this dusty earth,—yea, who sways our hearts of dust!
But it is only when we yield that we are conquered. “The dæmon shall not choose us, but we shall choose our dœmon.”6 It is only when we lose hold of our royal inheritance that Time is seen with his scythe and the heritage becomes a waste.
This is the failure, the central loss, over which Achtbeia mourns. Happy are the epoptœ who know this, who have looked the Sphinx in the face, and escaped death! They are the seers, they the heroes!
But “Conx Ompax!”
And now, like good Grecians, let us make the double libation to our lady,— toward the East and toward the West. That is an important point, reader; for thus is recognized the intimate connection which our lady has with the movements of Nature, in which her life is mirrored,—especially with the rising, the ongoing, and the waning of the day; and you remember that this also was the relief of the Sphinx’s riddle,—this same movement from the rising to the setting sun. But prominently, as in all worship, are our eyes turned toward the East,— toward the resurrection. In the tomb of Memnon, at Thebes, are wrought two series of paintings; in the one, through successive stages, the sun is represented in his course from the East to the West, —and in the other is represented, through various stages, his return to the Orient. It was to this Orient that the old king looked, awaiting his regeneration.
Thus, reader, in all nations,—by no mere superstition, but by a glorious symbolism of Faith,—do the children of the earth lay them down in their last sleep with their faces to the East.
- * The worship of this Great Mother is not more wonderful for its antiquity in time than for its prevalence as regards space. To the Hindu she was the Lady Isani. She was the Ceres of Roman mythology, the Cybele of Phrygia and Lydia, and the Disa of the North. According to Tacitus, (Germania, c. 9,) she was worshipped by the ancient Suevi. She was worshipped by the Muscovite, and representations of her are found upon the sacred drums of the Laplanders. She swayed the ancient world, from its southeast corner in India to Scandinavia in the northwest; and everywhere she is the "Mater Dolorosa.” And who is it, reader, that in the Christian world struggles for life and power under the name of the Holy Virgin, and through the sad features of the Madonna?↩
- Iliad, I. 63.↩
- This function of Mercury, as PsychoPompos, or conductor of departed souls to Hades, is often misunderstood. He was a Pompos not so much for the safety of the dead (though that was an important consideration) as for the peace of the living. The Greeks had an overwhelming fear of the dead, as is evident from the propitiatory rites to their shades; hence the necessity of putting them under strict charge,—even against their will. (Horace, I. Ode xxiv. 15.) All Mercury’s↩
- Plato’s Republic, at the close.↩