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divinities. The sun, moon, and stars, are all gods according to his system: Fountains are inhabited by nymphs, and trees by hamadryads: Even monkies, dogs, cats, and other animals, often become sacred in his eyes, and strike him with a religious veneration. And thus, however strong mens propensity to believe invisible, intelligent power in nature, their propenfity is equally strong to rest their attention on fensible, visible objects; and in order to reconcile these opposite inclinations, they are led to unite the invifible power with some visible object.
The distribution also of distinct provinces to the several deities is apt to cause some allegory, both physical and moral, to enter into the vulgar systems of polytheism. The god of war will naturally be represented as furious, cruel, and impetuous: The god of poetry as elegant, polite, and amiable: The god of merchandise, especially in early times, as thievish and deceitful. The allegories, supposed in Homer and other mythologists, I allow have often been fo ftrained, that men of sense are apt entirely to reject them, and to consider them as the production merely of the fancy and conceit of critics and commentators. But that allegory really has place in the heathen mythology is undeniable even on the least reflection. Cupid the son of VENUS; the Muses the daughters of Memory; PROMETHEUS, the wise brother, and EPIMETHEUS the foolish; HyGIEIA, or the goddess of health, descended from ESCULAPIUS or the god of physic: Who sees not, in these, and in many other instances, the plain traces of allegory? When a god is supposed to preside Óver any passion, event, or system of actions, it is almost unavoidable to give him a genealogy, attributes, and adventures, suitable to his supposed powers and influence; and to carry on that fimilitude and comparison, which is naturally so agreeable to the mind of man.
Allegories, indeed, entirely perfect, we ought not
to expect as the productions of ignorance and superftition; there being no work of genius that requires a nicer hand, or has been more rarely executed with success. That Fear and Terror are the sons of Mars is just; but why by VENUS*? That Harmony is the daughter of Venus is regular; but why by MARS †? That Sleep is the brother of Death is suitable; but why describe him as enamoured of one of the Graces I? And since the ancient mythologists fall into. mistakes so gross and palpable, we have no reason surely to expect such refined and long-spun allegories, as some have endeavoured to deduce from their fictions.
LUCRETIUS was plainly seduced by the strong appearance of allegory, which
is observable in the pagan
fictions. He first addresses himself to VENUS, as to that generating power which animates, renews, and beautifies the universe: but is soon betrayed by the mythology into incoherenties, while he prays to that allegorical personage to appease the furies of her lover Mars: An idea not drawn from allegory, but from the popular religion, and which LUCRETIUS, as an EPICUREAN, could not consistently admit of.
The deities of the vulgar are so little superior to human creatures, that, where men are affected with strong sentiments of veneration or gratitude for any hero or public benefactor, nothing can be more natural than to convert him into a god, and fill the heavens, after this manner, with continual recruits from among mankind. Most of the divinities of the ancient world are supposed to have once been men, and to have been beholden for their apotheofis to the admiration and affection of the people. The real history of their adventures, corrupted by tradition, and elevated by the marvellous, became a plentiful source of fable; efpecially in passing through the hands of poets, allegorists, and priests, who succef
sively * Hesiod. Theog. l. 935. † Id. ibid. et Plut. in vita PELOP. I ILIAD, xiv, 267.
fively improved upon the wonder and astonishment of the ignorant multitude.
Painters too and fculptors came in for their share of profit in the sacred mysteries; and furnishing men with sensible representations of their divinities, whom they cloathed in human figures, gave great encrease to the public devotion, and determined its object. It was probably for want of these arts in rude and barbarous ages, that men deified plants, animals, and even brute, unorganized matter; and rather than be without a sensible object of worship, affixed divinity to such ungainly forms. Could any ftatuary of Syria, in early times, have formed a just figure of APOLLO, the conic stone, HELIOGABALUS, had never become the object of such profound adoration, and been received as the representation of the solar deity *.
STILPO was banished by the council of AREOPAGUS, for affirming that the MINERVA in the citadel was no divinity, but the workmanship of PHIDIAS the sculptor t. What degree of reason must we expect in the religious belief of the vulgar in other nations, when ATHENIANS and AREOPAGITES could entertain such gross conceptions ?
These then are the general principles of polytheism, founded in human nature, and little or nothing dependent on caprice and accident. As the causes, which bestow happiness or misery, are in general very little known and very uncertain, our anxious concern endeavours to attain a determinate idea of them; and finds no better expedient than to represent them as intelligent voluntary agents, like ourfelves; only somewhat superior in power and wifdom. The limited influence of these agents, and
their * Herodian. lib. v. JUPITER Ammon is reprefented by Cure TIUS as a deity of the same kind, lib. iv. cap. 7. The ARABIANS and PERSINUNTIANS adored also shapeless unformed stones as their deity. ArnoB. lib. vi. So much did their folly exceed that of the EGYPTIANS.
# Diod. Laer7. lib. ii.
their great proximity to human weakness, introduce the various diftribution and division of their authority; and thereby give rise to allegory. The fame principles naturally deify mortals, superior in power, courage, or understanding, and produce hero-worship; together with fabulous history and mythological tradition, in all its wild and unaccountable forms. And as an invisible spiritual intelligence is an object too refined for vulgar apprehension, men naturally affix it to some sensible representation ; such as either the more conspicuous parts of nature, or the statues, images, and pictures, which a more refined age forms of its divinities.
Almost all idolaters, of whatever agë or country, concur in these general principles and conceptions ; and even the particular characters and provinces, which they affign to their deities, are not extremely different*. The GREEK and ROMAN travellers and conquerors, without much difficulty, found their own deities every where; and said, This is MERCURY, that Venus; this Mars, that NÉPTUNE; by whatever title the strange gods might be denominated. The goddess HERTHA of our Saxon ancestors seems to be no other, according to Tacitust, than the Mater Tellus of the ROMANS; and his conjecture was evidently just.
Sect. VI. Origin of Theism from Pólytheism.
The doctrine of one supreme Deity, the Author of Nature, is very ancient, has spread itself over great and populous nations, and among them has been embraced by all ranks and conditions of men : But whoever thinks that it has owed its fuccefs to the prevalent force of those invincible reasons, on VOL. II.
* See CAESAR of the religion of the Gauls, De bello Gallico, lib. xi.
+ De Moribus Germ,
which it is undoubtedly founded, would show him. felf little acquainted with the ignorance and ftupidity of the people, and their incurable prejudices in favour of their particular fuperstitions. Even at this day, and in EUROPE, ask any of the vulgar, why he believes in an omnipotent Creator of the world; he will never mention the beauty of final causes, of which he is wholly ignorant: He will not hold out his hand, and bid you contemplate the suppleness and variety of joints in his fingers, their bending all one way, the counterpoise which they receive from the thumb, the foftness and fleshy parts of the inside of his hand, with all the other circumstances which render that member fit for the use to which it was destined. To these he has been long accustomed ; and he beholds them with listlessness and unconcern. He will tell you of the sudden and unexpected death of such a one; the fall and bruise of such another ; the excessive drought of this season, the cold and rains of another. These he ascribes to the immediate operation of Providence: and such events as, with good reasoners, are the chief difficulties in admitting a supreme Intelligence, are with him the fole arguments for it.
Many theifts, even the most zealous and refined, have denied a particular providence, and have afserted, that the Sovereign mind, or first principle of all things, having fixed general laws by which nature is governed, gives free and uninterrupted course to these laws, and disturbs not, at every turn, the fettled order of events by particular volitions. From the beautiful connection, say they, and rigid observance of established rules, we draw, the chief argument for theism; and from the same principles are enabled to answer the principal objections against it. But so little is this understood by the generality of mankind, that, wherever they observe any one to ascribe all events to natural causes, and to remove the particular interpofition of a Deity, they are apt to