XLVI

The first humbug in the world⁠—​Advantages of studying the impositions of former ages⁠—​Heathen humbugs⁠—​The ancient mysteries⁠—​The cabiri⁠—​Eleusis⁠—​Isis.

The domain of humbug reaches back to the Garden of Eden, where the Father of lies practised it upon our poor, innocent first grandmother, Eve. This was the first and worst of all humbugs. But from that eventful day to the present moment, falsehood, hypocrisy, deception, imposition, cant, bigotry, false appearances and false pretences, superstitions, and all conceivable sorts of humbugs, have had a full swing, and he or she who watches these things most closely, and reflects most deeply upon these various peculiarities, bearings, and results, will be best qualified to detect and to avoid them. For this reason, I should look upon myself as somewhat of a public benefactor, in exposing the humbugs of the world, if I felt competent to do the subject full justice.

Next to the fearful humbug practiced upon our first parents, came heathen humbugs generally. All heathenism and idolatry are one grand complex humbug to begin with. All the heathen religions always were, and are still, audacious, colossal, yet shallow and foolish, humbugs. The heathen humbugs were played off by the priests, the shrewdest men then alive. It is a curious fact that the heathen humbugs were all solemn. This was because they were intended to maintain the existing religions, which, like all false religions, could not endure ridicule. They always appealed to the pious terrors of the public, as well as to its ignorance and appetite for marvels. They offered nothing pleasant, nothing to love, nothing to gladden the heart and lift it up in joyful gratitude, true adoration, and childlike confidence, prayer, and thanksgiving. On the contrary, awful noises, fearful sights, frightful threats, foaming at the mouth, dark sayings, secret processions, bloody sacrifices, grim priests, costly offerings, sleeps in darksome caverns to wait for a dream from the god⁠—these were the machineries of the ancient heathen. They were as crude and as ferocious as those of the King of Dahomey, or of the barbarous negroes of the Guinea coast. But they often show a cunning as keen and effective as that of any quack, or Philadelphia lawyer, or Davenport Brother, or Jackson Davis of today.

The most prominent of the heathen humbugs were the mysteries, the oracles, the sibyls (N.B., the word is often misspelled sybils,) and augury. Every respectable Pagan religion had some mysteries, just as every respectable Christian family has a bible⁠—and, as an ill-natured proverb has it, a skeleton. It was considered a poor religion⁠—a one horse religion, so to speak⁠—that had no mysteries.

The chief mysteries were those of the Cabiri, of Eleusis, and of Isis. These mysteries used exactly the same kind of machinery which proves so effective every day in modern mysteries, viz., shows, processions, voices, lights, dark rooms, frightful sights, solemn mummeries, striking costumes, big talks and preachments, threats, gabbles of nonsense, etc., etc.

The mysteries of the Cabiri are the most ancient of which anything is known. These Cabiri were a sort of “Original old Dr. Jacob Townsends” of divinities. They were considered senior and superior to Jupiter, Neptune, Plato, and the gods of Olympus. They were Pelasgic, that is, they belonged to that unknown ancient people from whom both the Greek and the Latin nations are thought to have come. The Cabiri afterward figured as the “elder gods” of Greece, the inventors of religion, and of the human race in fact, and were kept so very dark that it is not even known, with any certainty, who they were. The ancient heathen gods, like modern thieves, very usually objected to pass by their real names. The Cabiri were particularly at home in Lemnos, and afterward in Samothrace.

Their mysteries were of a somewhat unpleasant character, as far as we know them. The candidate had to pass a long time almost starved, and without any enjoyment whatever; was then let into a dark temple, crowned with olive, tied round with a purple girdle, and frightened almost to death with horrid noises, terrible sights of some kind, great flashes of light and deep darkness between, etc., etc. There was a ceremony of absolution from past sin, and a formal beginning of a new life. It is a curious fact, that this performance seems to have been a kind of pious marine insurance company; as the initiated, it was believed, could not be drowned. Perhaps they were put in a way to obtain a drier strangulation. The reason why these ceremonies were kept so successfully secret, is plain. Each man, as he was let in, and found what nonsense it was, was sure to hold his tongue and help the next man in, as in the modern case of the celebrated “Sons of Malta.” It is to be admitted, however, to the credit of the Cabiri, that a doctrine of reformation, or of living a better practical life, seems to have been part of their religion. This is an interesting recognition, by heathen consciences, of one of the greatest moral truths which Christianity has enforced. Something of the same kind can be traced in other heathen mysteries. But these heathen attempts at virtue invariably rotted out into aggravations of vice. No religion except Christianity ever contained the principle of improvement in it. Bugaboos and hobgoblins may serve for a time to frighten the ignorant into obedience; but if they get a chance to cheat the devil, they will be sure to do it. Nothing but the great doctrine of Christian love and brotherhood, and of a kind and paternal Divine government, has ever proved to be permanently reformatory, and tending to lift the heart above the vices and passions to which poor human nature is prone.

The mysteries of Eleusis were celebrated every year at Eleusis, near Athens, in honor of Ceres, and were a regular “May Anniversary,” so to speak, for the pious heathens of the period. It took just nine days to complete them; long enough for a puppy to get its eyes open. The candidates were very handsomely put through. On the first day, they got together; on the second, they took a wash in the sea; on the third, they had some ceremonies about Proserpine; on the fourth, no mortal knows what they did; on the fifth, they marched round a temple, two and two, with torches, like a Wide-Awake procession; on the sixth, seventh, and eighth, there were more processions, and the initiation proper, said to have been something like that of Freemasonry; so that we may suppose the victims rode the goat and were broiled on the gridiron. On the ninth day, the ceremony, they say, consisted in overturning two vessels of wine. I fear by this means that they all got drunk; and the more so, because the coins of Eleusis have a hog on one side, as much as to say, We make hogs of ourselves.

There was a set of mysteries at Athens, called Thesmophoria, and one at Rome, called the mysteries of the Bona Dea, which were celebrated by married women only. Various notions prevailed as to what they did. But can there be any reasonable doubt about it? They were, I fear, systematic conspirators’ meetings, in which the more experienced matrons instructed the junior ones how to manage their husbands. If this was not their object, then it was to maintain the influence of the heathen clergy over the heathen ladies. Women have always been the constituents of priests where false religions prevailed, as they have, for better purposes, of the ministers of the Gospel among Christians.

The mysteries of the goddess Isis, which originated in Egypt, were, in general, like those of Ceres at Eleusis. The Persian mysteries of Mithra, which were very popular during part of the latter days of the Roman empire, were of the same sort. So were those of Bacchus, Juno, Jupiter, and various other heathen gods. All of them were celebrated with great solemnity and secrecy; all included much that was terrifying; and all of their secrets have been so faithfully kept that we have only guesses and general statements about the details of the performances. Their principal object seems to have been to secure the initiated against misfortunes, and to gain prosperity in the future. Some have imagined that very wonderful and glorious truths were revealed in the midst of these heathen humbugs. But I guess that the more we find out about them, the bigger humbugs they will appear, as happened to the travelers who held a post mortem on the great heathen god in the story. This was a certain very terrible and powerful divinity among some savage tribes, of whom dreadful stories were told⁠—very authentic, of course! Some unbelieving scamps of travelers, by unlawful ways, managed to get into the innermost sacred place of the temple one night. They found the god to be done up in a very large and suspicious looking bundle. Having sacrilegiously cut the string, they unrolled one envelop of mats and cloths after another, until they had taken off more than a hundred wrappers. The god grew smaller, and smaller, and smaller; and the wonder of the travelers what he could be, larger and larger. At last, the very innermost of all the coverings fell off, and the great heathen god was revealed in all his native majesty. It was a cracked soda-water bottle! This indicates⁠—what is beyond all question the fact⁠—that the heathen mysteries had their foundation in gas. Indeed, the whole composition of these impositions was, gammon, deception, hypocrisy⁠—Humbug! Truly, the science of Humbug is entitled to some consideration, simply for its antiquity, if for nothing else.