Edward Carpenter.

Pagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning online

. (page 21 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 21 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the latter based on a strong intellectual belief in Unity, but
fervently denying any 'anthropomorphic' or 'animistic'
sense of that unity. Finally, it seems that we are
now on the edge of a further stage when the theories
and the creeds, scientific and religious, are on the verge of
collapsing, but in such a way as to leave the sense and the
perception of Unity — the real content of the whole
process — not only undestroyed, but immensely heightened
and illuminated. Meanwhile the taboos — of which there
remain some still, both religious and scientific —
have been gradually breaking up and merging them-


selves into a reasonable and humane order of life and

I have said that out of this World-religion Christianity
really sprang. It is evident that the time has arrived when
it must either acknowledge its source and frankly en-
deavor to affiliate itself to the same, or failing that must
perish. In the first case it will probably have to change its
name; in the second the question of its name 'will interest
it no more.'

With regard to the first of these alternatives, I might ven-
ture — though with indifference — to make a few sugges-
tions. Why should we not have — instead of a Holy
Roman Church — a Holy Human Church, rehabilitating the
ancient symbols and rituals, a Christianty (if you still
desire to call it so) frankly and gladly acknowledging
its own sources? This seems a reasonable and even feasible
proposition. If such a church wished to celebrate a Mass
or Communion or Eucharist it would have a great variety
of rites and customs of that kind to select from; those that
were not appropriate for use in our times or were connected
with the worship of strange gods need not be rejected or
condemned, but could still be commented on and explained
as approaches to the same idea — the idea of dedication
to the Common Life, and of reinvigoration in the partaking
of it. If the Church wished to celebrate the Crucifixion
or betrayal of its Founder, a hundred instances of such
celebrations would be to hand, and still the thought that
has underlain such celebrations since the beginning of the
world could easily be disentangled and presented in concrete
form anew. In the light of such teaching expressions
like "I know that my Redeemer liveth" would be traced
to their origin, and men would understand that notwith-
standing the mass of rubbish, cant and humbug which has
collected round them they really do mean something and
represent the age-long instinct of Humanity feeling its way
towards a more extended revelation, a new order of being,


a third stage of consciousness and illumination. In such a
Church or religious organization every quality of human na-
ture would have to be represented, every practice and
custom allowed for and its place accorded — the magical
and astronomical meanings, the rites connected with sun-
worship, or with sex, or with the worship of animals; the
consecration of corn and wine and other products of the
ground, initiations, sacrifices, and so forth — all (if indeed it
claimed to be a World-religion) would have to be represented
and recognized. For they all have their long human origin
and descent in and through the pagan creeds, and they all
have penetrated into and become embodied to some degree
in Christianity. Christianity threfore, as I say, must either
now come frankly forward and, acknowledging its par-
entage from the great Order of the past, seek to re-
habilitate that and carry mankind one step forward in the
path of evolution — or else it must perish. There is no other

Let me give an instance of how a fragment of ancient
ritual which has survived from the far Past and is still cele-
brated, but with little intelligence or understanding, in
the Catholic Church of to-day, might be adopted in such
a Church as I have spoken of, interpreted, and made eloquent
of meaning to modern humanity. When I was in Ceylon
nearly 30 years ago I was fortunate enough to witness a
night- festival in a Hindu Temple — the great festival of
Taipusam, which takes place every year in January. Of
course, it was full moon, and great was the blowing up of
trumpets in the huge courtyard of the Temple. The
moon shone down above from among the fronds of tall coco-
palms, on a dense crowd of native worshipers — men and
a few women — the men for the most part clad in little

^ Comte in founding his philosophy of Positivism seems to have
had in view some such Holy Human Church, but he succeeded in
making it all so profoundly dull that it never flourished. The seed
of Life was not in it.


more than a loin-cloth, the women picturesque in their colored
saris and jewelled ear and nose rings. The images of
Siva and two other gods were carried in procession round
and round the temple — three or four times; nautch girls
danced before the images, musicians, blowing horns and huge
shells, or piping on flageolets or beating tom-toms, accom-
panied them. The crowd carrying torches or high crates with
flaming coco-nuts, walked or rather danced along on each
side, elated and excited with the sense of the present
divinity, yet pleasantly free from any abject awe. The whole
thing indeed reminded one of some bas-relief of a Bac-
chanalian procession carved on a Greek sarcophagus — and
especially so in its hilarity and suggestion of friendly
intimacy with the god. There were singing of hymns and
the floating of the chief actors on a raft round a sacred
lake. And then came the final Act. Siva, or his image, very
weighty and borne on the shoulders of strong men, was car-
ried into the first chamber or hall of the Temple and
placed on an altar with a curtain hanging in front. The
crowd followed with a rush; and then there was more music,
recital of hymns, and reading from sacred books.
From where we stood we could see the rite which was per-
formed behind the curtain. Two five-branched candle-
sticks were lighted; and the manner of their lighting was
as follows. Each branch ended in a little cup, and in the
cups five pieces of camphor were placed, all approximately
equal in size. After offerings had been made, of fruit,
flowers and sandalwood, the five camphors in each candlestick
were lighted. As the camphor flames burned out the music
became more wild and exciting, and then at the moment of
their extinction the curtains were drawn aside and the con-
gregation outside suddenly beheld the god revealed
and in a blaze of light. This burning of camphor was,
like other things in the service, emblematic. The five
lights represent the five senses. Just as camphor consumes
itself and leaves no residue behind, so should the five senses,


being offered to the god, consume themselves and disappear.
When this is done, that happens in the soul which was now
figured in the ritual — the God is revealed in the
inner light.^

We are familiar with this parting or rending of the veil.
We hear of it in the Jewish Temple, and in the Greek and
Egyptian Mysteries. It had a mystically religious, and also
obviously sexual, signification. It occurs here and there in
the Roman Catholic ritual. In Spain, some ancient
Catholic ceremonials are kept up with a brilliance and
splendor hardly found elsewhere in Europe. In the
Cathedral at Seville the service of the Passion, carried
out on Good Friday with great solemnity and accompanied
with fine music, culminates on the Saturday morning — i.e.
in the interval between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection —
in a spectacle similar to that described in Ceylon.
A rich velvet-black curtain hangs before the High Altar. At
the appropriate moment and as the very emotional strains
of voices and instruments reach their climax in the "Gloria
in Excelsis," the curtain with a sudden burst of sound
(thunder and the ringing of all the bells) is rent asunder,
and the crucified Jesus is seen hanging there revealed in a
halo of glory.

There is also held at Seville Cathedral and before the
High Altar every year, the very curious Dance of the Seises
(sixes), performed now by i6 instead of (as of old) by 12
boys, quaintly dressed. It seems to be a survival of
some very ancient ritual, probably astronomical, in which
the two sets of six represent the signs of the Zodiac, and
is celebrated during the festivals of Corpus Christi, the Im-
maculate Conception, and the Carnival.

Numerous instances might of course be adduced of how
a Church aspiring to be a real Church of Humanity might
adopt and re-create the rituals of the past in the light of

1 For a more detailed account of this Temple- festival, see Adam's
Peak to Elephanta by E. Carpenter, "ch. vii.


d modern inspiration. Indeed the difficulty would be to
limit the process, for every ancient ritual, we can now
see, has had a meaning and a message, and it would be a
real joy to disentangle these and to expose the profound
solidarity of humanity and aspiration from the very dawn
of civilization down to the present day. Nor would
it be necessary to imagine any Act of Uniformity or dead
level of ceremonial in the matter. Different groups might
concentrate on different phases of religious thought and
practice. The only necessity would be that they should
approach the subject with a real love of Humanity in
their hearts and a real desire to come into touch with the deep
inner life and mystic growing-pains of the souls of men and
women in all ages. In this direction M. Loisy has done
noble and excellent work; but the dead weight and selfish
blinkerdom of the Catholic organization has hampered him
to that degree that he has been unable to get justice done
to his liberalizing designs — or, perhaps, even to reveal
the full extent of them. And the same difficulty will
remain. On the one hand no spiritual movement which
does not take up the attitude of a World-religion has now
in this age, any chance of success; on the other, all the ex-
isting Churches — whether Roman Catholic, or Greek, or
Protestant or Secularist — whether Christian or Jewish or Per-
sian or Hindu — will in all probability adopt the same
blind and blinkered and selfish attitude as that described
above, and so disqualify themselves for the great role of
world-wide emanciption, which some religion at some time
will certainly have to play. It is the same difficulty which
is looming large in modern World-politics, where the local
selfishness and vainglorious "patriotisms" of the Nations are
sadly impeding and obstructing the development of that
sense of Internationalism and Brotherhood which is the
clearly indicated form of the future, and which alone can
give each nation deliverance from fear, and a promise of
growth, and the confident assurance of power.


I say that Christianity must either frankly adopt this gen-
erous attitude and confess itself a branch of the great
World-religion, anxious only to do honor to its source —
or else it must perish and pass away. There is no other
alternative. The hour of its Exodus has come. It may be,
of course, that neither the Christian Church nor any
branch of it, nor any other religious organization, will
step into the gap. It may be — but I do not think this is
likely — that the time of rites and ceremonies and formal
creeds is past, and churches of any kind will be no more
needed in the world: not likely, I say, because of the still far
backwardness of the human masses, and their considerable
dependence yet on laws and forms and rituals. Still, if it
should prove that that age of dependence is really approach-
ing its end, that would surely be a matter for congratulation.
It would mean that mankind was moving into a knowledge
of the reality which has underlain these outer shows — that
it was coming into the Third stage of its Consciousness.
Having found this there would be no need for it to dwell
any longer in the land of superstitions and formulae. It
would have come to the place of which these latter are only
the outlying indications.

It may, therefore, happen — and this quite independently
of the growth of a World-cult such as I have described, though
by no means in antagonism to it — that a religious phil-
osophy or Theosophy might develop and spread, similar to
the Giianam of the Hindus or the Gndsis of the pre-Christian
sects, which would become, first among individuals and
afterwards among large bodies over the world, the religion
of — or perhaps one should say the religious approach to the
Third State. Books like the Upanishads of the Vedic
seers, and the Bhagavat Gita, though garbled and obscured
by priestly interferences and mystifications, do un-
doubtedly represent and give expression to the highest
utterance of religious experience to be found anywhere
in the world. They are indeed the manuals of human


entrance into the cosmic state. But as I say, and as has
happened in the case of other sacred books, a vast deal of
rubbish has accreted round their essential teachings,
and has to be cleared away. To go into a serious explication
of the meaning of these books would be far too large an
affair, and would be foreign to the purpose of the present
volume; but I have in the Appendix below inserted two papers,
(on "Rest" and "The Nature of the Self") containing the
substance of lectures given on the above books. These papers
or lectures are couched in the very simplest language,
free from Sanskrit terms and the usual 'jargon of the
Schools,' and may, I hope, even on that account be of
use in familiarizing readers who are not specially
students with the ideas and mental attitudes of the cosmic
state. Non-differentiation (Advaita^) is the root attitude of
the mind inculcated.

We have seen that there has been an age of non-differen-
tiation in the Past — non-differentiation from other members
of the Tribe, from the Animals, from Nature and the Spirit
or Spirits of nature; why should there not arise a similar
sense of non-differentiation in the Future — similar but more
extended more intelligent? Certainly this will arrive, in
its own appointed time. There will be a surpassing of the
bounds of separation and division. There will be a surpassing
of all Taboos. We have seen the use and function of Taboos
in the early stages of Evolution and how progress and growth
have been very much a matter of their gradual extinction
and assimilation into the general body of rational thought
and feeling. Unreasoning and idiotic taboos still linger, but
they grow weaker. A new Morality will come which will
shake itself free from them. The sense of kinship with the
animals (as in the old rituals)- will be restored; the sense

^ The word means "not-two-ness." Here we see a great subtlety
of definition. It is not to be "one" with others that is urged, but to
be "not two."

2 The record of the Roman Catholic Church has been sadly callous
and inhuman in this matter of the animals.


of kinship with all the races of mankind will grow and
become consolidated; the sense of the defilement and im-
purity of the human body will (with the adoption of a
generally clean and wholesome life) pass away; and the body
itself will come to be regarded more as a collection of shrines
in which the gods may be worshiped and less as a mere
organ of trivial self-gratifications;^ there will be no form
of Nature, or of human life or of the lesser creatures, which
will be barred from the approach of Man or from the
intimate and penetrating invasion of his spirit; and as in
certain ceremonies and after honorable toils and labors a
citizen is sometimes received into the community of his own
city, so the emancipated human being on the completion of
his long long pilgrimage on Earth will be presented with
the Freedom of the Universe.

1 See The Art of Creation, by E. Carpenter.



In conclusion there does not seem much to say, except to
accentuate certain points which may still appear doubtful
or capable of being understood.

The fact that the main argument of this volume is along
the lines of psychological evolution will no doubt com-
mend it to 3ome, while on the other hand it will discredit
the book to others whose eyes, being fixed on purely material
causes, can see no impetus in History except through these.
But it must be remembered that there is not the least reason
for separating the two factors. The fact that psycho-
logically man has evolved from simple consciousness to
self-consciousness, and is now in process of evolution
towards another and more extended kind of consciousness,
does not in the least bar the simultaneous appearance
and influence of material evolution. It is clear indeed
that the two must largely go together, acting and reacting
on each other. Whatever the physical conditions of the animal
brain may be which connect themselves with simple (un-
reflected and unreflecting) consciousness, it is evident that
these conditions — in animals and primitive man — lasted
for an enormous period, before the distinct consciousness
of the individual and separate self arose. This second
order of consciousness seems to have germinated at
or about the same period as the discovery of the use



of Tools (tools of stone, copper, bronze, &c.), the adoption
of picture-writing and the use of reflective words (like "I"
and "Thou"); and it led on to the appreciation of gold and
of iron with their ornamental and practical values, the
accumulation of Property, the establishment of slavery
of various kinds, the subjection of Women, the encourage-
ment of luxury and self-indulgence, the growth of crowded
cities and the endless conflicts and wars so resulting. We
can see plainly that the incoming of the self-motive exercised
a direct stimulus on the pursuit of these material objects
and adaptations; and that the material adaptations in their
turn did largely accentuate the self-motive; but to insist
that the real explanation of the whole process is only to
be found along one channel — the material or the psychical
— is clearly quite unnecessary. Those who understand
that all matter is conscious in some degree, and that all
consciousness has a material form of some kind, will be the
first to admit this.

The same remarks apply to the Third Stage. We can see
that in modern times the huge and unlimited powers of pro-
duction by machinery, united with a growing tendency
towards intelligent Birth-control, are preparing the way
for an age of Communism and communal Plenty which
will inevitably be associated (partly as cause and partly as
effect) with a new general phase of consciousness, involving
the mitigation of the struggle for existence, the growth
of intuitional and psychical perception, the spread of amity
and solidarity, the disappearance of War, and the realization
(in degree) of the Cosmic life.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty or stumbling-block to
the general acceptance of the belief in a third (or 'Golden-
Age') phase of human evolution is the obstinate and obdurate
pre-judgment that the passing of Humanity out of the Sec-
ond stage can only mean the entire abandonment of self-
consciousness; and this people say — and quite rightly
— is both impossible and undesirable. Throughout the


preceding chapters I have striven, wherever feasible, to
counter this misunderstanding — but I have little hope of suc-
cess The determination of the world to misunderstand or
misinterpret anything a little new or unfamiliar is a
thing which perhaps only an author can duly appreciate.
But while it is clear that self-consciousness originally came
into being through a process of alienation and exile and fear
which marked it with the Cain-like brand of loneliness
and apartness, it is equally clear that to think of that
apartness as an absolute and permanent separation is an
illusion, since no being can really continue to live divorced
from the source of its life. For a period in evolution the
self took on this illusive form in consciousness, as of an
ignis fatuus — the form of a being sundered from all other
beings, atomic, lonely, without refuge, surrounded by dangers
and struggling, for itself alone and for its own salvation
in the midst of a hostile environment. Perhaps some
such terrible imagination was necessary at first, as it
were to start Humanity on its new path. But it had
its compensation, for the sufferings and tortures, mental and
bodily, the privations, persecutions, accusations, hatreds,
the wars and conflicts — so endured by millions of indi-
viduals and whole races — have at length stamped upon
the human mind a sense of individual responsibility which
otherwise perhaps would never have emerged, and whose
mark can now be effaced; ultimately, too, these things
have searched our inner nature to its very depths and ex-
posed its bed-rock foundation. They have convinced us
that this idea of ultimate separation is an illusion, and
that in truth we are all indefeasible and indestructible
parts of one great Unity in which "we live and move and
have our being." That being so, it is clear that there remains
in the end a self-consciousness which need by no means be
abandoned, which indeed only comes to its true fruition and
imderstanding when it recognizes its affiliation with the
Whole, and glories in an individuality which is an


expression both of itself and of the whole. The human
child at its mother's knee probably comes first to know it
has a 'self on some fateful day when having wandered
afar it goes lost among alien houses and streets or in the
trackless fields. That appalling experience — the sense of
danger, of fear, of loneliness — is never forgotten; it stamps
some new sense of Being upon the childish mind, but that
sense, instead of being destroyed, becomes all the prouder
and more radiant in the hour of return to the mother's arms.
The return, the salvation, for which humanity looks, is
the return of the little individual self to harmony and union
with the great Self of the universe, but by no means its ex-
tinction or abandonment — rather the finding of its own true
nature as never before.

There is another thing which may be said here: namely,
that the disentanglement, as above, of three main stages of
psychological evolution as great formative influences in the
history of mankind, does not by any means preclude
tlie establishment of lesser stages within the boundaries
of these. In all probability subdivisions of all the three
will come in time to be recognized and allowed for. To take
the Second stage only, it may appear that Self-consciousness
in its first development is characterized by an accentuation
of Timidity; in its second development by a more deliberate
pursuit of sensual Pleasure (lust, food, drink, &c.); in its
tliird by the pursuit of mental gratifications (vanities,
ambitions, enslavement of others) ; in its fourth by the pur-
suit of Property, as a means of attaining these objects;
in its fifth by the access of enmities, jealousies, wars and so
forth, consequent on all these things; and so on. I have no
intention at present of following out this line of thought,
but only wish to suggest its feasibility and the degree to
which it may throw light on the social evolutions of the Past.^

1 For an analysis of the nature of Self-consciousness see vol. iii,
P- 375 sq. of the three ponderous tomes by Wilhelm Wundt — Grund-


As a kind of rude general philosophy we may say that
there are only two main factors in life, namely, Love and
Ignorance. And of these we may also say that the two are
not in the same plane: one is positive and substantial,
the other is negative and merely illusory. It may be thought
at first that Fear and Hatred and Cruelty, and the like, are
very positive things, but in the end we see that they
are due merely to absence of perception, to dulness
of understanding. Or we may put the statement in a rather
less crude form, and say that there are only two factors
in life: (i) the sense of Unity with others (and with Nature)
— which covers Love, Faith, Courage, Truth, and so forth,
and (2) Non-perception of the same — which covers Enmity,
Fear, Hatred, Self-pity, Cruelty, Jealousy, Meanness and an
endless similar list. The present world which we see
around us, with its idiotic wars, its senseless jealousies of

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21 23 24 25

Online LibraryEdward CarpenterPagan & Christian creeds : their origin and meaning → online text (page 21 of 25)