The God-Idea of the Ancients (or Sex in Religion)
By Eliza Burt Gamble
Public Domain Books
Chapter VII. Concealment of the Early Doctrines
After the decline of Nature-worship, and when through the constantly increasing power gained by the ruder elements in human society a knowledge of the scientific principles underlying ancient religion had been partially lost or forgotten, it became necessary for philosophers to conceal the original conception of the Deity and to clothe their sacred writings in allegory. Hence it is observed that every ancient form of religion has a cabala containing its secret doctrines–doctrines the inner meaning of which was known only to the few. In order that these truths might be preserved, they were inscribed on the leaves of trees in characters or symbols understood only by the initiated. The allegories beneath which these higher truths were concealed were handed down as traditions to succeeding generations–traditions in which history, astrology, and mythology are strangely combined.
After long periods, through war, conquest, and the various changes incidental to shifting environment, these traditions were in the main forgotten. Fragments of them, however, were from time to time gathered together, and, intermingled with later doctrines, were used by the priests as a means of increased self-aggrandizement and power.
It is now thought that the Iliad (Rhapsodies) of Homer is only a number of “detached songs” which perhaps for centuries were delivered orally, and that they contain the secret doctrines of the priests. Porphyry says that “we ought not to doubt that Homer has secretly represented the images of divine things under the concealment of fable.” It has been said of Plato that he banished the poems of Homer from his imaginary republic for the reason that the people might not be able to distinguish what is from what is not allegorical. Hippolytus informs us that the Simonists declared that in Helen resided the principle of intelligence; “and thus, when all the powers were for claiming her for themselves, sedition and war arose, during which this chief power was manifested to nations.” These songs which were gathered together by Pisistratus and revised by Aristotle for the use of Alexander, have generally been regarded merely as a bit of history recounting a severe and protracted struggle between the Greeks and Trojans.
Within the earliest historical accounts which we have of the Egyptians, we observe that their ceremonies and symbols have already become multitudinous, the true meaning of the latter being concealed. The masses of the people, who had grown too sensualized and ignorant to receive the higher divine “mysteries,” and too gross to be entrusted with their true significance, had become idolaters.
Not only the Egyptian and Chaldean priests, but Moses and the Jewish doctors were well versed in religious symbolism. The fact is observed, also, that as late as medieval Christianity, the fathers in the Church, the Christian painters, sculptors, and architects, still employed signs and symbols to set forth their religious doctrines. Even at the present time, many of the emblems representing certain ideas connected with the creative principles, and which were part and parcel of the pagan worship, are still in use. The masses of the people, however, are without a knowledge of their origin or early significance.
Everywhere, throughout the early historic nations, were worshipped symbols of the attributes or functions of the dual or triune God. Each symbol represented a distinctive female or male quality. Animals, trees, the sea, plants, the moon, and the heavens were, at a certain stage of religious development, symbolized as parts of the Deity and worshipped as possessing certain female or male characteristics or attributes.
It is plain that, with the decline of female power, and the consequent stimulation of the animal instincts in man, the pure creative principles involved in Nature-worship gradually became unsuited to the sensualized capacities and tastes of the masses; but in addition to this were other reasons why the female principle in the Deity should be concealed. Women were already deposed from their former exalted position as heads of families and as leaders of consanguine communities. All their rightful prerogatives had been usurped. The highest development in Nature had become the slave of man’s appetites, and motherhood, which had hitherto been accepted as the most exalted function either in heaven or on the earth, trailed in the dust.
Under these conditions it is not perhaps singular that the capacity to bring forth, and the qualities and attributes of women which are correlated with it, namely, sympathy–a desire for the welfare of others outside of self, or altruism,–should no longer have been worshipped as divine, or that in their place should have been substituted the leading characters developed in man. From the facts at hand it is plain that at a certain stage of human growth physical might and male reproductive energy, or virility, became the recognized God. With passion as the highest ideal of a Creator, the female element appeared only in a sensualized form and simply as an appendage to the god which was dependent upon her ministrations. Under the above conditions it is not in the least remarkable that by the priests it should have been deemed necessary to conceal from women the facts bound up in their nature. Woman’s importance as a creative agency and as a prime and most essential factor in the universe must be concealed. “Isis must be veiled.”
Through the appropriation of the titles of the original dual God by reigning monarchs, is perceived at least one of the processes by which the great universal female Deity of the ancients has been transformed into a male god. We are assured that the “redundant nomenclature of the deities of Babylon renders an interpretation of them impossible. Each divinity has many distinct names, by which he is indifferently designated.” It is observed that each
Deity has as many as forty or fifty titles, each of which represents a certain attribute.
Since the invention of the cuneiform alphabet, by which pictures have been reduced to phonetic signs, the attempt has been made to arrange or classify these gods according to their proper order in the Pantheon, but thus far much obscurity and doubt seem to pervade their history.
In Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian mythologies are observed much confusion and no small degree of mystery surrounding the positions occupied by certain gods. “Children not unfrequently change positions with parents,” but more frequently, we are told, “women change places with men,” or, more properly speaking, the titles, attributes, and qualities ascribed to the Great Universal female God are now transferred to the reigning monarch. Thus not unfrequently a deity is observed which is composed of a male triad, the central figure of which is the king or military chieftain, and to which is usually appended a straggling fourth member, a female, who, shorn of her power, and with a doubtful and mysterious title, appears as wife or mistress to his greatness, while upon her is reflected, through him, a slight hint of that dignity and honor which was originally recognized as belonging exclusively to the recognized Deity.
The Goddess Vishnu, from whose navel as she slept on the bottom of the sea sprang all creation, after her transformation into a male God, is supplemented by a wife–Lacksmir. Lacksmir means wisdom; but she has become only an appendage to her “lord,” upon whom is reflected all her former glory.
So greedy did rulers become for the splendid titles belonging to the female divinities that we are told that “the name of the Great Goddess Astarte not unfrequently appears as that of a man.”
Although man had usurped the titles of the female God and had denied her recognition as an active creative agency, still, as nothing could be created without her, she was permitted, as we have seen, to remain as wife or mistress to the reigning monarch, in whom had come to reside infinite wisdom and power. Her symbol was an ark, chest, boat, box, or cave. This woman, although dignified by the title “Mother of the Gods,” and even by that of “Queen of Heaven,” is utterly without power.
Not only is it plain that the titles and attributes of female gods have been appropriated by males, but it is also true that the more ancient deities, which are now known to have been female, have by later investigators been represented as male.
The interpretations which have hitherto been put upon the Babylonian and Assyrian deities by many of those who have attempted to unravel the mysteries of an earlier stage of religious worship, is doubtless due to the fact that since the so-called historic period began, the qualities which have been considered godlike have all been masculine; it has therefore never occurred to the minds of these writers that the ancients may have entertained quite different notions from their own regarding the attributes of a Deity; hence, whenever the sex of a god has appeared doubtful, especially if it be in the least degree powerful or important, it has at once been denominated as masculine, and this, too, notwithstanding the fact that such rendering has oftentimes involved inconsistencies, contradictions, and absurdities which it is impossible to reconcile either with established facts or with common sense.
Unless the symbols representing religious belief and worship are viewed in the light of later developed facts in mythology, archaeology, and philology, there occur many seeming absurdities and numberless facts which it is found difficult to reconcile with each other; especially is this true in regard to some of the symbols used to express the distinctive female and male qualities. The serpent, for instance, although a male symbol, in certain ages of the world’s history appears as a beautiful woman.
This is accounted for by the fact that a woman and a serpent once stood for the god-idea. Together they constituted an indivisible entity–the creating power in the universe. They therefore became interchangeable terms. The woman when appearing alone represented both, as did also the serpent.
“In most ancient languages, probably all, the name for the serpent signifies Life, and the roots of these words generally also signify the male and female organs, and sometimes these conjoined. In low French the words for Phallus and life have the same sound, though, as is sometimes the case, the spelling and gender differ"; but this fact is thought to be of no material importance, as “Jove, Jehova, sun, and moon have all been male and female by turn.”
No doubt many of the inconsistencies hitherto observed in the religion of the ancients will disappear so soon as we obtain a clearer knowledge of their chronology; and events which now seem contradictory will be satisfactorily explained when placed in their proper order with regard to date. Religion, like everything else, is constantly shifting its position to accommodate itself to the changed mental conditions of its adherents; hence, ideas which at any given time in the past were perfectly suited to a people, would, in the course of five hundred or one thousand years, have become changed or greatly modified.
During a certain stage in human history “all great women and mythical ladies were serpents"; but when monumentally or pictorially represented, they appeared “with the head of a woman, while the body was that of a reptile.” This figure represented Wisdom and Passion, or the spiritual and material planes of human existence. The mythical woman whom Hercules met in Scythia, and who was doubtless the original eponymous leader of the Scythian people, had the head of a woman and the body of a serpent. Even the Mexicans declare that “he, the serpent, is the sun, Tonakatl-Koatl, who ever accompanies their first woman.” Their primitive mother, they said, was Kihua-Kohuatl, which signifies a serpent. In referring to this Mexican tradition, Forlong remarks: “So that the serpent here was represented as both Adam and Adama; and their Eden, as in Jewish story, was a garden of love and pleasure."
 Herodotus, book iv., 9.
 Rivers of Life, vol. i., p. 143.
The traditions extant among all peoples seem to connect the introduction of the serpent into religious symbolism, with a time in the history of mankind when they first began to recognize the fact, that through the abuse of the reproductive functions, evil, or human wretchedness, had gained the ascendency over the higher forces. The Deity represented by a woman and a serpent involved the idea not alone of good, but of good and evil combined. Together they prefigured not only Wisdom and generative power, but evil as well. Mythologically they represented the cold of winter and the heat of the sun’s rays, both of which were necessary reproduction. From this conception sprang the Ormuzd and Ahryman of the Persians, the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent in Genesis, and the legend of Kihua-Kohuatl and Tonakatl-Koatl in Mexico.
“The serpent remained in the memory and affections of most early people as wisdom, life, goodness, and the source of knowledge and science, under various names such as Toth, Hermes, Themis, the Kneph or Sophia of Egyptians and Gnostics, and Set, Shet, or Shem of the Jews."
 Forlong, Rivers of Life, etc., vol. i., p. 143.
The Serpent Goddess, although embracing evil as well as good, was still the “Giver of Life” and the “Teacher of Mankind.” These were the titles which in later ages began to be coveted by monarchs, and then it was that the attributes belonging to this Deity began to appear in connection with royalty.
There is no ancient divinity about which there seems to be connected so much mystery as the Assyrian Hea. When referring to the “great obscurity” which surrounds this God we are assured that there is at present “no means of determining the precise meaning of the cuneiform Hea, which is Babylonian rather than Assyrian,” but that it is doubtless connected with the Arabic Hya, which is said to mean “life,” or the female principle in creation. This Deity is the God of “glory” and of “giving," titles which during the earlier ages of human existence belonged to the Queen of Heaven, the Celestial Mother.
The representation of the god Amun or Amun-ra, which superseded the triune Deity, Kneph, Sate, and Anouk at Thebes, and from which in Assyria doubtless proceeded the trinity, Amun, Bel-Nimrod, and Hea, is supposed to be identical with the Greek Zeus, which means the sun. This God is represented by a female figure seated on a throne. It is crowned with two long feathers, and in the right hand is observed the cross, the emblem of life. Manetho, the celebrated Egyptian historian, declares that the name of this God signifies “concealed.”
There can be little doubt that the titles of the ancient Deity–the Destroyer or Regenerator, or, in other words, those of the God of life which embraced the idea of the moving force throughout Nature, were, in course of time, appropriated by the rulers of the people. It is stated that the name of a certain Egyptian God appears first in connection with royalty, that “his name was substituted for some earlier divinity whose hieroglyphics were chiselled out of the monuments to make place for his.”
According to the testimony of Rawlinson, the God Hea is represented by the great serpent, which occupies a conspicuous position among the symbols of the gods on the black stones recording Babylonian benefactions. Now these flat black stones are themselves said to symbolize the female element in the Deity, in contradistinction to the obelisks, which prefigure the male, while the serpent, for reasons which have already been explained, appeared for ages in connection with the figure of a woman. In later inscriptions “king” is everywhere attached to the name of the God Hea, which fact shows that the titles ascribed to her were those particularly coveted by royalty. Hence we are not surprised to find that in an inscription of Sardanapalus, in the British Museum, there “occurs a remarkable phrase in which the king takes the titles of Hea.”
Among the Assyrian inscriptions appear Bel-Nimrod, Hea, and Nin or Bar. In view of the facts which have come to light regarding Hea, it is altogether probable that the triad Bel-Nimrod, Hea, and Nin represent the trinity as figured by the father, mother, and child. That Nin was the son or the child of Bel-Nimrod “is constantly asserted in the inscriptions.” He appears also as the son of Hea, yet the fact that Hea should be represented as a woman, or as the mother of Nin, and the central figure in the trinity, seems not to have been observed by those who thus far have been engaged in deciphering these inscriptions. By representing Hea as male, Nin is made to appear as the offspring of two fathers while he is left absolutely motherless. To obviate this difficulty an ingenious attempt has been made to account for his existence by substituting his own wife as the author of his being. Although in the numerous accounts which I had read of Hea, in my search for information concerning her, she had always been designated as male, still I was satisfied from the descriptions given that originally this Deity was female. Therefore upon receiving a copy of Forlong’s Rivers of Life and Faiths of Man in All Lands, I was not surprised to find the following:
“Hoa or Hea, the Hu of our Keltic ancestors, whose symbol was the shield and the serpent, was worshipped near rivers and lakes, and if possible on the sea-shore, where were offered to her such emblems as a golden vessel, boat, coffer, or fish, and she was then named Belat Ili (the mistress of the Gods)."
 Vol. ii., p. 94.
She was the Goddess of Water. Of this Forlong says: “Water, perhaps more than fire, has always been used as a purifier. . . . Christians have but imitated the ancients, in the use of Lustral water–now-a-days called Holy Water, and into which salt should be freely put.”
According to Francis Vasques, the Cibola tribes of New Mexico pay no adoration to anything but water, believing it to be the chief support of all life. The Hindoo faith and the Greek Christian Church prescribe “adorations, sacrifices, and other water rites, and hence we find all orthodox clergy and devotees have much to do with rivers, seas, and wells, especially at certain annual solar periods.”
The extent to which these ancient rites are still practiced as part and parcel of modern religious observances is not realized by those who have given no special attention to the subject. As spring advances, all ranks of Russians from the Czar to the humblest peasant proceed with their clergy to the Neva, where with solemn pomp the ice is broken and the water, which is held to be of virgin purity, is sprinkled upon the heads of Czar, nobles, and other dignitaries. The following is an account given of the worship of Hea not many years ago in the public press:
“An Imperial and Arch-episcopal procession was formed, consisting of, first, the High Priest of the empire in all his most gorgeous robes, the two masters of ceremonies walking backwards (probably because not of a holy enough order), long double files of white- and gold-robed bearers of sacred flambeaux or candles, for Fire must enter into every ceremony, whether it is the male or female energy which is being worshipped. Following these Religieux came all the sacred relics and fetishes of the Church, as Maya’s holy cup for water, all holy books, crosses, banners, with sacred emblems in their order, and finally the Czar, humbly, and, like all his people, on foot, followed by courtly throngs. These all proceeded to a handsome pavilion or kiosk, erected close to the edge of the water, when the Metropolitan of the Church reverently made an incision in the ice, and took out a little water in a sacred golden cup bearing strange devices. The firing of guns accompanied these solemn acts in all their stages, and wherever the grave procession moved, it always did so with measured tread, chanting sacred verses to the old, old Deity of our race, and surrounded with all the pomp of war; whilst at intervals, peals of Christian bells and the booming of near and distant guns added to the solemnity of this water pageant. After the filling of the golden cup, which, of course, represents the earth and its fulness, and, at this season, the now expected increase, the High Priest placed a golden crucifix on the virgin water and blessed its return from wintry death, invoking the precious fluid to vernal life and productiveness, when lo! a holy child suddenly appears upon the scene, reminding us that this is everywhere the outcome of the ’wafers of life’ in all animal as well as vegetable production. Boodha in the garden of Loobim through which flowed a holy stream, and Christ by the brook at Bethlehem, nay, the first pair in the garden of the four rivers, are all the same idea–fertility and creation. The high Russian Pontiff now slowly and solemnly stooped, and taking up some of the holy water, proceeded to sprinkle the vernal child–Jesus, whispered these crowds, but the ancients said Horus. The sacred fluid was then sprinkled on the clergy, the Czar, and all dignitaries, and finally on the sacred emblems, banners, guns, etc. Men and women, aye, wise as well as foolish, of every rank, now crowded forward, and on bended knee besought their Patriarch to sprinkle and to bless them. Finally, the great Czar put the cup to his lips, humbly and reverently, and then filled it to overflowing with a wealth of golden pieces, for it is the still living representative in the nineteenth century A.C. of ’the golden boat’ of Hea of the nineteenth century B.C.’
 Forlong, Rivers of Life, vol. ii., p. 95.
The symbol of Neith or Muth, Athene or Minerva, the great universal female principle of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, was the shield and serpent. In Celtic Druids I find that Nath, the Egyptian Neith, the “goddess of wisdom and science whose symbol was the shield and serpent, was worshipped among the ancient Irish.” The male God associated with her was Naith, and according to Higgins represented “the opposite of Neith.”
In Rivers of Life is observed a reference to the Assyrian Goddess Hea by Lucian. In a note Forlong says that no doubt Hea is the same as Haiya or Haya. In other words she represents the universal hermaphrodite–the creative principle throughout Nature, which was originally worshipped as female. The actual signification of the word Haya is “life.” In ancient Arabia it was applied to a group of kinsmen.
The Rev. Mr. Davis is of the opinion that Noe or Noah was the same as Deon and that both were Hu or Hea the mighty, whose chariot was drawn by solar rays. This God was in fact the same as Zeus, Bacchus, and all the rest of the sun and water Deities. It has been observed that, according to the ancient cosmogonies, within water was contained the life principle, and as a woman presided over it, or was the only being or entity present, she must have been the self-existent Creator. From this woman sprang all creation. According to the account in Genesis, the Spirit of God moved on the face of the deep and creation began.
By all nations water has been employed as a symbol of regeneration, and as it contained the beginning of things it was female. The Hindoos regard it as sacred, and in one of their most solemn prayers it is thus invoked: Waters, mothers of worlds, purify us!
 Quoted by Inman from Colbrook, vol. i., p. 85.
Doubtless it was from these ancient speculations regarding the beginnings of things that Thales, the Milesian philosopher, received his doctrine that water is the original principle. The ancient Egyptians and the Jewish people to this day have the custom of pouring out all the water contained in any vessel in a house where a death has taken place, because of the idea that as the living being comes from water, so does it make its exit through water. Hence “to drink or to use in any way a fluid which contains the life of human beings would be a foul offense.”
The fact is noted by Inman that in all Assyrian mythology the water God Hea is associated with life and with a serpent. Although Rawlinson declares that Hea is Babylonian rather than Assyrian, may she not, in view of the facts concerning her, be not only Babylonian, but Egyptian, Indian, Phrygian, Mexican, and all the rest?
It would seem that in this Deity, who is figured in connection with a shield and serpent, as is Minerva, and who is worshipped near water– an emblem which is sacred to her,–and whose titles correspond exactly to those of Neith or Cybele, might be traced the remnants of a once universal worship–a worship in which the female energy constituted the Creator.
Although it is declared that “great obscurity surrounds the God Hea,” no one, I think, whose mind is free from prejudice, and who understands the significance of the early god-idea, and the true meaning of the symbols used in later ages to express it, can study the myths connected with this Deity without at once recognizing her identity with the great female God of Nature who was once worshipped by every people on the globe, but whose worship had become sensualized to satisfy the corrupted taste of a more depraved age–an age in which passion constituted the highest idea of a God.
Although the serpent Deity was originally portrayed with the head of a woman and the body of a serpent or fish, after the change of sex in the god-idea which has been noted in the foregoing pages had been completed, it is observed that this figure is represented by the head of a man and the body of a serpent. Hea, the great goddess to whom water, the original principle, is sacred, and who is suspiciously connected with Noah, the life-principle which appears at the close of a cycle, has changed her sex. This god is now the “Ruler of the Seas,” “Master of the Life-Boat” (the ark), and “Lord of the Earth.” The earth is his and the fulness thereof. He is the “Life Giver,” the “Lord of Hosts,” who subsequently becomes the maker of heaven and earth.
Minerva, who had been the first emanation from the Deity and the daughter of the Great Mother of the Gods, now has a father but no mother. Jove, who in course of time came to be represented as a male Creator, brought her forth from his head. Later, woman is produced from the side of man. The male principle, symbolized by a serpent, has become “the one only and true God.” It is Passion –the “Healer of Nations"–the great “I Am.”
No unprejudiced individual who carefully follows the results of later investigation, and who attempts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the ancient gods and the significance of the symbols of worship belonging to the earliest historic times, will fail to note the attempt which has been made in later ages to conceal the fact that the Deity worshipped in very ancient times was female. Neither will he fail to observe the modus operandi by which the attributes and prerogatives of this Deity have been shifted upon males–usually deified monarchs. After priestcraft and its counterpart, monarchial rule, had robbed the people of all their natural rights, kings assumed not alone the governing functions, but arrogated to themselves the symbols, titles, and attributes of the dual Deity. The reigning monarch became not only the temporal ruler and priest, but was actually God himself, the female principle being concealed under convenient symbols.