Littell's Living Age/Volume 143/Issue 1845/The Supreme God in the Indo-European Mythology

Littell's Living Age
Volume 143, Issue 1845 : The Supreme God in the Indo-European Mythology
111944Littell's Living AgeVolume 143, Issue 1845 : The Supreme God in the Indo-European MythologyJames Darmesteter

The Supreme God in the Indo-European Mythology

Comparative Mythology [1]

Towards the end of the last century the men of letters of Europe were astonished to hear that in Asia, on the banks of the Ganges, a more ancient and richer language had been found than that of Homer. It offered in its words and forms striking analogies with the languages of Rome and Athens. Interest once roused, systematic comparisons were made, and comparative grammar was founded. The sphere of comparisons widened and the group of Aryan languages was established.

It was thus ascertained that the languages of the Romans, of the Greeks, of the Gauls, of the Germans, of the Lithuanians, and of the Slays in Europe, of the Hindoos and Persians in Asia, are made out of the same materials and cast in the same mould; that they are only varieties of one primitive type. The precise laws which regulated the formation of each of these varieties were discovered, so that it is both possible to proceed from one of these languages to the other, and to trace all of them to the original type whence they come, to the lost type which they reproduce. This lost type, the source of all the idioms of nearly the whole of Europe and of a third of Asia, science has reconstructed: with an almost absolute certainty, it has described the grammar, drawn up the lexicon of that language, of which no direct echo remains, not the fragment of an inscription on a broken stone, of that language of which the life and the death are pre-historic, and which was spoken at a period when there were as yet neither Romans, nor Hindoos, nor Greeks, nor Persians, nor Germans, nor Celts, and when the ancestors of all those nations were still wandering as one tribe, one knows not where, one knows not when.

Closely following comparative grammar, almost at the same time rose up comparative mythology, and with the ancient words awoke the gods that they had sung, the beliefs that they had fostered. It was recognized that if the Indo-Europeans spoke essentially the same language, they also worshipped essentially the same gods and believed in the same things. As comparative grammar, on hearing the sister tongues, caught up the echo of the mother, whose voice they repeat, so comparative mythology in its turn, on looking at the sister religions, has tried to see through them the original image which they reflect. As the one restored the words and forms of the language which lived on the lips of the Aryans at the moment of the breaking up of the Aryan unity, the other endeavored to restore the gods and beliefs which lived in their souls at the moment when, with the unity of the race, the identity of language and belief passed away. This restoration of the pre-historic gods and of the pre-historic beliefs is the final object of comparative mythology, just as the reconstruction of words and forms is the final object of comparative grammar. The object was analogous and so was the method. It is the comparative method, which by comparing kindred divinities and kindred beliefs, finds the original divinity and the original belief which gave birth to them, and which are reproduced in them. To sketch the picture of the original mythology, it is sufficient to separate from the various derivative mythologies the essential characteristics common to them. Every characteristic common to the secondary religions will be legitimately referred to the primitive one, whenever it is essential — that is to say neither borrowed from one of the kindred religions nor due to an identical, but quite independent development. lf, for instance, the various Indo-European mythologies agree in naming the gods daiva, "the shining ones," it follows that in the primitive mythology, in the religion of the period of unity, they were known already as beings of light and called thus. It is a great deal easier to admit that the seven derived religions have faithfully repeated what has been handed down to them from their common source, than to imagine that once separated they have created the same conception, each one on its side, and have clothed it with the same expression: the former hypothesis is a simple and natural induction: the second is in reality made up of seven hypotheses, and implies seven chances agreeing together, seven miracles.

Our object in the following pages is to give a sketch of one of the chapters of the Aryan mythology. We try to show that the religion of the Indo-European unity recognized a Supreme God, and we try to find the most ancient form and the earliest origin of that conception among the Aryans, and to follow out the transformations it has undergone in the course of ages.

The Supreme God: Zeus, Jupiter, Varuna, Ahura Mazda.

The Aryan gods are not organized as a republic: they have a king. There is over the gods a Supreme God.

Four of the Aryan mythologies have preserved a clear and precise notion of this conception: they are those of Greece, of Italy, of ancient India, and of ancient Persia. This Supreme God is called Zeus in Greece, Jupiter in Italy, Varuna in ancient India, Ahura Mazda in ancient Persia. Let us then listen to Zeus, to Jupiter, to Varuna, and to Ahura Mazda each in his turn.

Zeus and Jupiter [2]. — About three centuries before our era a Greek poet thus addressed Zeus: —

Oh! thou most glorious of immortals, whose names are many, forever almighty, Zeus, thou who rulest nature, directing all things according to a law, hail! To thee all this universe moving round the earth yields obedience, following whither thou leadest, and submits itself to thy rule. … So great in thy nature, king supreme above all things, no work is achieved without thee, neither on the earth, nor in the celestial regions of ether, nor on the sea, but those which the wicked accomplish in their folly.

This is the Zeus of the philosophers, of the Stoics, of Cleanthes: but he was already the Zeus of the ancient poets. Powerful, omniscient, and just is the god of Æschylus, as that of Cleanthes: he is the king of kings, the blessed of the blessed, the sovereign power among all powers, the only one who is free among the gods, who is the master of the mightiest, who is subservient to no one's rule; above whom no one sits, no one to whom from below he looks with awe; every word of his is absolute; he is the God of deep thoughts, whose heart has dark and hidden ways, impenetrable to the eye, and no scheme formed within his mind has ever miscarried. Finally, he is the Father of Justice, Dike, "the terrible virgin who breathes out on crime anger and death," it is he who from hell raises vengeance with its slow chastisement against the bold wayward mortal. Terpander proclaims in Zeus the essence of all things, the god who rules over everything. Archilochus sings Zeus father, as the God who rules the heavens, who watches the guilty and unjust actions of men, who administers chastisements to monsters, the God who created heaven and earth. The old man of Ascra knows that Zeus is the father of gods and of men, that his eye sees and comprehends all things and reaches all that he wishes. In short, as far back as the Greek pantheon appears in the light of history, even from Homer, Zeus towers above the nation of gods which surrounds him. He himself proclaims, and the other gods proclaim after him, that, unrivalled in power and strength, he is the greatest of all; the gods, at his behest, silently bow down before him; he would hurl into the gloomy depths of Tartarus whomsoever should dare to disobey him: he would hurl him down into the uttermost depths of the subterranean abyss: alone against them all, he would master them. Should they let fall from the sky a golden chain on which all the gods and goddesses might be suspended, they still would be powerless, however hard they might strain to drag him from the heavens to the earth; and if it pleased him, he could draw them up even with the earth, even with the sea, and he would then fix the chain on the ridge of Olympus, and suspend on it the whole universe; so much is he above mankind, above the gods. Not only is he the most powerful, but also he is the wisest — the μητιέτης; he is all wisdom and he is likewise all justice. It is from him that the judges of the sons of the Achæans have received their laws: very good, very great, he holds learned conversations with Themis (the law) who sits at his side; prayers are his daughters, whom he avenges for all the insults of the wicked.

Thus, power, wisdom, justice, belonged from all time to Zeus, to the Zeus of Homer as well as to the Zeus of Cleanthes; to the Zeus of the poets as to him of the philosophers, in the remotest period of paganism as at the approach of the religion of Christ. A providential god rules the pantheon of the Hellenes.

What Zeus is in Greece, Jupiter is in Italy: the God who is above all the gods. The identity of the two deities is so striking that the ancients themselves, forestalling comparative mythology, recognized it from the very first. He is the God, great and good amongst them all: Jupiter, optimus, maximus.

Varuna. — The most ancient of the religions of India, which the Vedas have made known to us, has also a Zeus, whose name is Varuna.[3]

Truly admirable for grandeur are the works of him who has separated the two worlds and fixed their vast extent: of him who has set in motion the high and sublime firmament, who has spread out the heavens above and the earth beneath.

These heavens and this earth which reach so far, flowing with milk, so beautiful in form, it is by the law of Varuna that they remain fixed, facing each other, immortal beings with fertile seed.

This Asura,[4] who is acquainted with all things, has propped up these heavens, he has fixed the boundaries of the earth. He is enthroned above all the worlds, universal king; all the laws of the world are the laws of Varuna.

In the bottomless abyss the king Varuna has lifted up the summit of the celestial tree.[5] It is the king Varuna who has traced out to the sun the broad path he is to follow to footless creatures he has given feet so that they may run.
Those stars, which illumine the night, where were they during the day? Infallible are the laws of Varuna: the moon kindles itself and walks through the night.
Varuna has traced out paths for the sun: he has thrown forwards the fluctuating torrent of rivers. He has dug out the wide and rapid beds where the waves of the days, let loose, unroll themselves in their order.
He has put strength into the horse, milk into the cow, intellect into the heart, agni[6] into the waters, the sun in the sky, soma[7] into the stone.
The wind is thy breath, O Varuna! Which roars in the atmosphere, like the ox in the meadow. Between this earth and the sublime heaven above, all things, O Varuna, are of thy creation.

There is an order in nature, there is a law, a habit, a rule, a rita. This law, this rita, it is Varuna who has established it. He is the god of the rita, the god of order, the guardian of the rita; he is the god of efficient and stable laws; in him rest as in a rock the fixed immovable laws.

Organizer of the world, he is its master. He is the first of the Asuras, "of the lords;" he is the Asura, "the Lord;" he is the sovereign of the whole world, the king of all beings, the universal king, the independent king; no one amongst the gods dares to infringe his laws; "it is thou, Varuna, who art the king of all."

As he has omnipotence, he has omniscience too, he is "the Lord who knows all things," the Asura viçva-vedas. He is the sage who has supreme wisdom, in whom all sciences have their centre; when the poet wishes to praise the learning of a god, he compares it to that of Varuna. "He knows the place of the birds which fly in the air, he knows the ships which are sailing on the ocean, he knows the twelve months and what they will bring forth, he knows every creature that is born. He knows the path of the sublime wind in the heights, he knows who sits at the sacrifice. The God of stable laws, Varuna, has taken his place in his palace to be the universal king, the god with the wondrous intellect. Hence, following in his mind all these marvels, he looks around him at what has happened and what will happen."

As he is the universal witness, he is also the universal judge, the infallible judge whom nothing escapes: none can deceive him, and from above he sees the evil done below and strikes it: he has sevenfold bands to clasp thrice round the liar by the upper, by the middle, and by the lower part of the body. The man, smitten by misfortune, implores his pity, and feels that he has sinned, and that the hand which strikes is also the hand that punishes: —

I ask thee, O Varuna, because I wish to know my fault:
I come to thee, to question thee who knowest all things. All the sages, with one voice, said to me, Varuna is angry with thee.
What great crime have I committed, O Varuna, that thou shouldst want to kill thy friend, thy bard? Tell me, O Lord, O infallible one, and I will then lay my homage at thy feet.
Free me from the bonds of my crime, do not sever the thread of the prayer that I am weaving, do not deliver me over to the deaths that, at thy dictate, O Asura, strike him who has committed a crime: send me not into the gloomy regions far from the light.
Let me pay the penalty of my faults; but let me not suffer, O king, for the crime of others; there are so many days that have not dawned yet ! Let them dawn for us also, O Varuna!

Such is the supreme god of the Vedic religion, an organizing god, almighty, omniscient, and moral. The following is a Vedic hymn which sums up with singular force the essential attributes of the God : —

He who from on high rules this world sees everything as if it were before him. That which two men, seated side by side are plotting, is heard by King Varuna, himself the third.
This earth belongs to the king Varuna, and this sky, these two sublime worlds with their remote limits; the two seas[8] are the belly of Varuna, and he rests also even in this small pool of water.
He who should leap over the sky and beyond it, would not escape the king Varuna: he has his spies, the spies of the heavens, who go through the world; he has his thousand eyes which look on the earth.
The king Varuna sees everything, all that which is between the two worlds and beyond them: he reckons the winking of the eye of all creatures:
The world is in his hand like the dice in the hand of the gamester.
Let thy sevenfold bands, O Varuna, let thy bands of wrath which are thrice linked together, let them enfold the man with a lying tongue, let them leave free the man with a truthful tongue!

Ahura Mazda.[9] — Ancient Persia opposes to Zeus, to Jupiter, to Varuna, her Ormazd or Ahura Mazda[10] "It is through me," he said to his prophet, Zoroaster, "that the firmament, with its distant boundaries, hewn from the sparkling ruby, subsists without pillars to rest upon; it is through me that the earth, through me that the sun, the moon and the stars take their radiant course through the atmosphere; it was I who formed the seeds in such a manner that, when sown in the earth, they should grow, spring up, and appear on the surface; it was I who traced their veins in every species of plants, who in all beings put the fire of life which does not consume them; it is I who in the maternal womb produce the new-born child, who form the limbs, the skin, the nails, the blood, the feet, the ears; it was I who gave the water feet to run; it was I who made the clouds, which carry the water to the world," etc. This development, taken from a recent book of the Ghebers, the Bundahish, is to be found entire, in the very first words of their oldest and holiest book, the Avesta: "I proclaim and worship Ahura Mazda, the Creator." As far as history can be traced, he was already what he is now. Near the ruins of the ancient Ecbatana, the traveller may read, on the red granite of the mountain of Alvand, these words, which were engraved by the hand of Darius, the king of kings, nearly five centuries before the birth of Christ:—

A powerful God is Aurâmazda!
'Twas he who made this earth here below!
'Twas he who made that heaven above!
'Twas he who made man!

This God, who made the world, rules it. He is the sovereign of the universe, the Ahura,[11] "the Lord." "He is a powerful god," exclaims Xerxes ; "he is the greatest of all the gods." It is to his favor that Darius, inscribing upon the rock of Behistun the narrative of his nineteen victories, ascribes both his elevation and his triumphs. It is to his supreme care that he confides Persia: "This country of Persia, which Aurâmazda has given me, this beautiful country, beautiful in horses, beautiful in men, by the grace of Aurâmazda, and through me, king Darayavus, has nothing to fear from any enemy. May Aurâmazda and the gods of the nation bring me their help! May Aurâmazda protect this country from hostile armies, from barrenness and evil! May this country never be invaded by the stranger, nor by hostile armies, nor by barrenness, nor by evil! This is the favor which I implore from Aurâmazda and the gods of the nation!"

This world which he has organized is a work of intelligence; by his wisdom it began, and by his wisdom it will end. He is the mind which knows all things, and it is to him that the sage appeals in order to penetrate the mysteries of the world.

Reveal to me the truth, O Ahura! What was the beginning of the good creation?
Who is the father, who, at the beginning of time, begat order?
Who has traced for the sun and the stars the paths that they must follow?
Who makes the moon increase and decrease?
O Ahura! I would learn those mysteries and many more!
Who has fixed the earth and the immovable stars to establish them firmly, so that they might not fall? Who has fixed the waters and the trees?
Who has directed the rapid course of the wind and of the clouds? What skilful artist has made the light and the darkness?
What skilful workman has made sleep and wakefulness? Through whom have we dawn, noon, and night? From whom do they learn the law which is traced out for them? Who endeared the son to his father so that he should train him? Those are the things that I wish to ask thee, O Mazda, O beneficent Spirit, O Creator of all things!

In his omniscience are embraced all human actions. He watches over all things, and is far-seeing, and never sleeping. He is the infallible one; "it is impossible to deceive him, the Ahura, who knows all things." He sees man, and judges and chastises him, if he has not followed his law, for from him comes the law of man, as well as the law of the world; from him comes the science supreme among all other sciences, that of duty, the knowledge of those things we ought to think, say, and do, and of those things we ought neither to think, nor say, nor do. To the man who has prayed well, thought, spoken, and acted well, he opens his resplendent paradise; he opens hell to him who has not prayed and who has thought, spoken, and done evil.

The Supreme God, the God of Heaven.

Thus the Aryans of Greece, of Italy, of India, and of Persia agree in giving the highest place in their pantheon to a supreme God who rules the world and who has founded order, a God sovereign, omniscient, and moral. Has this identical conception been formed in each of these cases by four independent creations, or is it a common inheritance from the Indo-European religion, and did the Aryan ancestors of the Greeks, of the Latins, of the Hindoos, and of the Persians already know a supreme God, an organizing, a sovereign, an omniscient, a moral God?

Although the latter hypothesis is more simple and more probable than the former, it cannot, however, be taken at once as certain; because an abstract and logical conception of this kind may very well have developed itself at the same time among several nations, in an identical and independent manner. To whomsoever looks upon it at any time and in any place, the world can reveal the existence of a supreme maker: Socrates is not the disciple of the Psalmist; yet the heavens reveal to him, as to the Hebrew poet, the glory of the Lord. But if it be found that the abstract conception is closely connected with a naturalistic and material conception, and that the latter is identical in the four religions, as it is known, on the other hand, that these four religions have a common past, the hypothesis that this abstract conception is a heritage of this past, and not a creation of the present, may rise to a certainty.

Now, these gods who organize the world, rule it and watch over it; this Zeus, this Jupiter, this Varuna, this Ahura Mazda are not the personifications of a simple abstract conception; they emerge from a former naturalism, from which they are not yet quite detached; they commenced by being gods of the heavens.

Zeus and Jupiter have never ceased to be gods of the heavens, and to be conscious of it. When the world was shared among the gods, "Zeus received the boundless sky in the ether and the clouds for his share." It is as the God of heaven that sometimes he shines luminous, calm, and pure, enthroned in the ethereal splendor, and that sometimes he becomes gloomy and gathers clouds (νεφεληΥερέτης), causing the rain to fall from heaven (όμβριος), hurling upon the earth the eddy of fierce winds, drawing forth the hurricane from the summit of the ether, brandishing the lightning and the thunderbolt (κεραύνιος, άστραπαίος). This is why the thunderbolt is his weapon, his attribute, "the thunderbolt with its never-tiring foot," which he hurls in the heights; why he rolls on a resounding chariot, brandishing in his hand the fiery trident, or dashing it on the wings of the eagle, or on Pegasus, the aërial steed of the lightning. This is why he is the husband of Dêmêter, "the mother Earth," whom he impregnates with his torrents of rain; this is why he sent forth, from his brow according to some, from his belly according to others, from the clouds according to the Cretan legend, Athênê, the resplendent goddess with the penetrating glance, who came forth, shaking golden weapons, with a cry which made heaven and earth resound, as she is the incarnation of the stormy light which breaks forth from the brow of heaven, from the belly of heaven, from the bosom of the cloud, filling space with its splendor and with the crash of its stormy birth. Lastly, the very name of Zeus (genitive Dios, formerly Divos) is, in conformity with the laws of Greek phonetics, the literal representative of the Sanscrit Dyaus, heaven (genitive Divas), and the union of Ζεύς πατήρ with Δημήτηρ is the exact counterpart of the Vedic union of Dyaus pitar with Pritivî mâtar, of the Heaven-Father with Earth-Mother. The word Ζεύς is an ancient synonym of Ούρανός, which became obsolete as a common noun; still, in a certain number of expressions, it retains some of its former meaning. Thus it is, when the Earth prays Zeus to let rain fall upon her; when the Athenian in praying exclaims: "O dear Zeus, rain thou on the field of the Athenians and on the plains" — "Zeus has rained the whole night," says Homer: ύε Ζεύς πάννυχος. In all these expressions Zeus may be literally translated as a common noun, sky.

Jupiter, identical with Zeus in his functions, is identical with him in his material attributes.

The word Jûpiter, or better Jup-piter, is for Jus-piter, composed of pater and of Jus, the Latin contraction of the Sanscrit Dyaus, of the Greek Ζεύς: Juppiter is then the exact equivalent of Ζεύς πατήρ, and the word has even preserved more strongly than Zeus the sense of its early meaning; sub Jove signifies "under the heavens;" the bunter awaits the Marsian boar, heedless of the cold or snow, sub Jove frigido, "under the cold Jupiter, under the cold sky." Dyaus is also in Latin, as it is in Sanscrit, the name of the brilliant sky: "Behold," exclaims old Ennius, "above thy head this luminous space which all invoke under the name of Jupiter:" —

Aspice hoc sublime candens quem invocant omnes Jovem.

Varuna, like his European brethren, has been, and is yet, a material god, and a material god of the same kind, a god of heaven. This is why the sun is his eye, why the sun, "the beautiful bird which flies in the firmament," is "his golden-winged messenger;"[12] why the celestial rivers flow in the hollow of his mouth, as in the hollow of a reed; why everywhere visible, by turns full of light and of darkness, by turns he infolds himself in the night, and irradiates the dawns, and by turns clothes himself in the white garments and in the black ones. Like Zeus, and from the same cause, he gathers together the clouds, he turns the sack that contains the rains, and lets it loose upside down on the two worlds; he inundates the heaven and the earth, he clothes the mountains with a watery garb, and his blood-red eyes unceasingly furrow the watery dwelling with their twinkling flashes. As Zeus is the father of Athênê, he is the father of Atharvan, "the Fire-God," of Bhrigu, "the Thunderer" that is to say, of Agni, of the lightning. Agni himself is brought forth "from his belly in the waters," like a male Athênê. Finally, like Zeus, like Jupiter, he bears in his very name the expression of what he is; and the Sanscrit Varuna is the exact phonetic representative of Ούρανός, sky.

In fine, the sovereign god of Persia, notwithstanding the character of profound abstraction which he has acquired and which is reflected in his name Ahura Mazda, "the omniscient Lord," can himself be recognized as a god of the heavens. The ancient formulæ of the litanies still show that he is luminous and corporeal; they invoke the creator Ahura Mazda, resplendent, very great, very beautiful, corporeally beautiful; white, luminous, seen from afar; they invoke the entire body of Ahura Mazda, the body of Ahura which is the greatest of bodies; they say that the sun is his eye, and that the sky is the garment embroidered with stars with which he arrays himself; lastly, the most abstract of the Aryan gods has preserved a trait which shows him more closely tied than the others to the material world from which they have freed themselves; he is called "the most solid of the gods," because "he has for clothing the very solid stone of the sky." Like Varuna, like Zeus, the lightning is in his hands, "the molten brass which he causes to flow down on the two worlds;" like them he is the father of the god of lightning, Atar. Lastly, the most ancient historical evidence confirms the inductions of mythology, as at the very time when the Achæmenian kings proclaim the sovereignty of Aurâmazda, Herodotus wrote: "The Persians offer up sacrifices to Zeus,[13] going up on the highest summit of the mountains, as they call Zeus the entire orb of the sky."

Thus the supreme gods of the four great religions of Greece, of Italy, of India, and of Persia, are at the same time, or have begun by being, gods of the skies. By the side of these four,. Svarogu, the god of the ancient pagan Slavs, should no doubt equally be placed. Like Zeus, like Jupiter, like Varuna, like Ahura Mazda, he is the master of the universe, the gods are his children, and it is from him that they have received their functions; like them he is the god of the heavens, he is the thunderer, and like them he is the father of the fire, Svarojitchi, "the son of heaven."[14]

His Origin. [15]

How did the god of the heavens become the organizing god, the supreme god, the moral god? How was the abstract conception grafted on the naturalistic conception? What is the connection between his material attribute and his abstract function? The Vedas give the solution of this problem.

As far as the eye can reach, it can never reach beyond the sky; whatever is, is under the immense vault; all that which is born and dies, is born and dies within its bounds. Now, whatever takes place in it, takes place according to an immutable law. The dawn has never failed to appear at her appointed place in the morning, never forgotten where she is to appear again, nor the moment at which she is to reanimate the world. Darkness and light know their appointed hour, and always at the desired moment "the black one has given way to the white." Linked together by the same chain in the endless path open before them, they follow their way onwards, the two immortals, directed by a God, absorbing each other's tints. The two fertile sisters do not clash with one another; they never stop, dissimilar in form, but alike in spirit. Thus run the days with their suns, the nights with their stars, season following season. The sky has always in regular course ushered in by turn the day and the night. The moon has always lit up at the fixed hour. The stars have always known where they should go during the day. The rivers have always flowed into the one ocean without making it full.

This universal order is either the motion of the heavens, or it is the action of the God of heaven, according as we think of the body or the soul, and view in the heavens the thing or the God. Thus, in the Rig-Veda, to say" everything is in Varuna" — that is, "in the heavens" — and to say "everything is through Varuna" — that is, "through the heaven-god" — are one and the same thing; and in these formulæ of the Veda, so clear in their uncertainty, theism is ever found side by side with unconscious pantheism, of which it is only an expression. "The three heavens and the three earths rest in Varuna," says a poet, and immediately afterwards, giving personality to his God: "It is the skilful king Varuna who makes this golden disc shine in heaven." The wind which whistles in the atmosphere is his breath, and all that exists from one world to the other was created by him. "From the king Varuna come this earth below, and yonder heaven, too, these two worlds with remote limits; the two seas are the belly of Varuna, and he rests also even in the small pool of water."

This pantheistic theism, which makes no clear distinction between the God of heaven and the universe over which he rules, or which is comprised in him, penetrates Jupiter as well as Varuna. The Latin poets offer the equivalent of the vacillating formulæ of Vedism. "The mortals," says Lucretius, explaining the origin of the idea of God, "the mortals saw the regular motions of the heavens and the various seasons of the year succeed each other in a fixed order, without being able to discover the causes. They had, therefore, no other alternative than to attribute all to the gods, who made everything go according to their will, and it was in the sky that they placed the seat and domain of the gods, because it is there that may be seen revolve the night and the noon, the day and the gloomy planets of the night; the nocturnal lights wandering in the sky, and the flying flames, the clouds, the sun, the rain the snow, the winds, the thunderbolts, the hail, the sudden convulsions, and the great threatening rumblings." [16]

This view of the heavens as the universal centre of the movements of nature, might just as well have led to pantheism as to theism. The line of the poet: "Juppiter est quodcunque vides, quodcunque moveris" — "Jupiter is everything that thou seest, everywhere that thou movest" —does not refer only to the Jupiter of the metaphysicians of the Porch; it also expresses one of the aspects of the Jupiter of primitive mythology. It was not by a deviation from his earlier nature that Zeus was confounded with Pan; he was Pan by birth; and if the epopee and the drama show us only a personal Zeus, it is because by their very nature they could and should see him only under this aspect, and had nothing to obtain from the impersonal Zeus, although in this form he was as old as in the other. And the Orphic theologian is not quite unfaithful to the earlier tradition of religion, when he sings of the universal Zeus: —

Zeus was the first, Zeus is the last, Zeus the thunderer;
Zeus is the head, Zeus is the middle; it is by Zeus that all things are made;
Zeus is the male, Zeus is the immortal female;
Zeus is the base of both the earth and the starry sky;
Zeus is the breath of the winds, Zeus is the jet of the unconquerable flame;
Zeus is the root of the sea, Zeus is the sun and the moon. …
The whole of this universe is stretched out within the great body of Zeus.

In the same manner, although Persia has in general preserved the personality of her supreme god, yet she suffers him, especially in the sects, to become confounded with the infinity of matter through which he first revealed himself to the mind of his worshippers. After having invoked the heavens as the body of Ahura Mazda, the most beautiful of bodies, she placed above Ahura himself, and before him, the luminous space, where he manifests himself, what the theologians called "the infinite light," and then by a new and higher abstraction declared space[17] to have been at the beginning of the world. Between this wholly metaphysical principle and the naturalistic principle of the primitive religion, there is only the distance of two abstractions: space is only the bare form of the luminous infinite, and the luminous infinite, again, is an abstraction from the infinite and luminous sky, which was identical with Ahura.

Thus, accordingly as the heavens were considered as the seat or as the cause of things, the god of the heavens became the matter of the world or the demiurge of the world. From the period of Aryan unity, he was without doubt the one and the other in turn; but it is probable that the theistic conception was more clearly defined than the other, as it is so in the derived mythologies; it has besides deeper roots in the human heart and human nature, which in every movement and in every phenomenon sees a living cause, a personality.

This god of the heavens, having organized the world, is all wisdom; he is the skilled artisan who has regulated the motion of the worlds. His wisdom is infinite, for of all those mysteries which man tries in vain to fathom he has the key, he is the author. But it is not only as the creator of the world that he is omniscient: he knows all things, because, being all light, he sees all things. In the naturalistic psychology of the Aryans, to see and to know, light and knowledge, eye and thought, are synonymous terms. With the Hindoos, Varuna is omniscient because he is the infinite light; because the sun is his eye; because from the height of his palace with its pillars of red brass, his white looks command the world; because under the golden mantle that covers him, his thousands, his myriads of spies, active and untiring agents, sunbeams during the day, stars during the night, search out for him all that which exists from one world to the other, with eyes that never sleep, never blink. And in the same way, if Zeus is the all-seeing, the πανπτης, it is because his eye is the sun, this universal witness, the infallible spy of both gods and men (θεών σκοπόν ήδέ καί άνδρών). The light knows the truth, it is all truth; truth is the great virtue which the god of heaven claims; and lying is the great crime which he punishes. In Homer, the Greek taking an oath, raises his eyes towards the expanse of heaven and calls Zeus and the sun to witness; in Persia, the god of heaven resembles in body the light, and in soul the truth: Aryan morality came down from heaven in a ray of light.

His Destiny.

Thus, the Indo-European religion knew a supreme God, and this God was the God of the heavens. He has organized the world and rules it, because, as he is the heaven, all is in him, and all passes within him, according to his law; he is omniscient and moral, because, being luminous, he sees all things and all hearts. This God was named by the various names of the sky — Dyaus, Varana, Svar, which, according to the requirements of the thought, described either the object or the person, the heavens or the God. Later on, each language made a choices and fixed the proper name of the God on one of these words; by which its ancient value as a common noun was lost or rendered doubtful: thus, in Greek Dyaus became the name of the heaven-God (Zeus) and Varana (Ούρανός) was the name of the heavens, as a thing; in Sanscrit Dyaus or Svar was the material heavens; the heaven-God was Varana (later changed into Varuna); the Slavs fixed on the word Svar, by means of a derivative, Svarogu, the idea of the celestial God; the Romans made the same choice as the Greeks with their Jup-piter, and set aside the other names of the heavens; lastly, Persia described the God by one of his abstract epithets, the Lord, Ahura, and obliterated the external traces of his former naturalistic character.

This God, who reigned at the time of the breaking up of the religion of Aryan unity, was carried away, with the various religions which sprang up from it, to the various regions where chance brought the Aryan migrations. Of the five religions over which he ruled, three remained faithful to him to the last, and only forsook him at the moment when they themselves perished; they are those of the Greeks, of the Romans, and of the Slavs, with whom Zeus, Juppiter, and Svarogu preserved the titles and attributes of the supreme God of the Aryans, as long as the national religion lasted. They succumbed to Christ; "Heaven-father" gave way to the "Father who is in heaven."

India, on the contrary, very soon forgot that god for whose origin and formation, however, she accounts much better than any other Aryan religion does; and it was not a foreign god who dethroned him — a god from without — but a native god, a god of his own family, Indra, the hero of the tempest.

In fact, the supreme god of the Aryans was not a god of unity; the Asura, the Lord, was not the Lord in the same sense as Adonai. There were by the side of him, within himself, a number of gods, acting of their own accord, and often of independent origin. The wind, the rain, the thunder; the fire under its three forms — the sun in the heavens, the lightning in the cloud, the terrestrial fire on the altar; the prayer under its two forms — the human prayer, which ascends from the altar to heaven, and the heavenly prayer, which resounds in the din of the storm, on the lips of a divine priest, and descends from the heights with the torrents of libations poured from the cup of heaven, all the forces of nature, both concrete and abstract, appealing at once to the eye and to the imagination of man, were instantly deified. If the god of the heavens, greater in time and space, always present and everywhere present, easily rose to the supreme rank, carried there by his double infinity, yet others, with a less continuous, but more dramatic action, revealing themselves by sudden, unexpected events, maintained their ancient independence, and religious development might lead to their usurping the power of the king of the heavens. Already during the middle of the Vedic period, Indra, the noisy god of the storm, ascends the summit of the pantheon, and eclipses his majestic rival by the din of his resounding splendor.

He is the favorite hero of the Vedic Rishis; they do not tire of telling how he strikes with his bolt the serpent of the cloud, which enfolds the light and the waters; how he shatters the cavern of Cambara, how he delivers the captive Auroras and cows, who will shed torrents of light and milk on the earth. It is he who makes the sun come out again; it is he who makes the world, annihilated during the night, reappear; it is he who recreates it, he who creates it. In a whole series of hymns he ascends to the side of Varuna, and shares the empire with him; at last he mounts above him, and becomes the universal king: —

He, who, as soon as he was born, a god of thought, has surpassed the gods by the power of his intellect, he whose trembling made the two worlds quake by the power of his strength — O man, it is Indra!
He, who has firmly established the tottering earth and arrested the quivering mountains; he who has fixed the extent of the wide-stretching atmosphere, and who has propped up the sky,— O man, it is Indra!
He, who, after slaying the serpent, unpenned the seven rivers; who brought forth the cows from their hiding-place in the cavern; he, who, by the clashing of the two stones, has engendered Agni, — O man, it is Indra!
He, who made all these great things; he, who struck down the demon race, driving it to concealment; he, who, like a fortunate gamester who wins at play, carries off the wealth of the impious, — O man, it is Indra!
He, who gives life to both rich and poor, and to the priest his singer who implores him; the god with beautiful lips; the protecting god who brings the stones together to press out the soma, — O man, it is Indra!
He, who has in his hands the herds of horses and cows, the cities and the chariots of war; be, who has created the sun and the dawn; he, who rules the waters, — O man, it is Indra!
He, who is invoked by the two contending armies, by the enemies facing each other, either triumphant or beaten; he, whom, when they meet in the struggle on the same chariot, during the onslaught, they invoke against each other, — O man, it is Indra!
He, who discovered Cambara in the mountains where he had been hidden forty years; he, who killed the serpent in his full strength, who struck him dead on the body of Dânu, [18] — O, man, it is Indra!
Heaven and earth bow down before him; when he shakes, the mountains tremble; the drinker of soma, look at him; bearing the bolt in his arm, the bolt in his hand, — O man, it is Indra!

But the usurper does not enjoy his triumph long; in the heat of his victory he is already stung to the heart, mortally wounded by a new and mystic power which is growing at his side, the power of prayer, of sacrifice, of worship, of Brahma, whose reign begins to dawn towards the end of the Vedic period, and which is still in existence.

What Indra did in India during an historical period, Perkun and Odin did in a pre-historical period, the one among the Lithuanians, the other among the Germans. Perkun and Odin are the Indras of these two nations, and have each dethroned the god of the heavens. Perkun was the god of the thunder with the Lithuanian pagans, and one can recognize in him a twin brother of the Hindoo Parjanya, one of the forms of the god of the storm in Vedic mythology. This king of the Lithuanian pantheon is a king of recent date; what proves it is that the Slavs, so closely related to the Lithuanians in their beliefs, as well as in their language, and who also knew the god Perkun, have still as their supreme god the supreme god of the ancient Aryan religion, the god of the heavens, Svarogu.

The same revolution took place in Germany, but in a more remote period. The god of the heavens has vanished; he is replaced by the god of the stormy atmosphere, Odin, or Wuotan, the Vâta of India, the warrior god who is heard in the din of the tempest, leading his dishevelled bands of warriors, or letting loose on a celestial quarry the howling packs of the wild chase.

Thus did the Greeks, the Romans, and the Slavs allow their god to be vanquished by a foreign god; the Germans, the Lithuanians, and the Hindoos themselves forsook him for an inferior creation. Only in one single nation he finds worshippers faithful to the last They are not numerous, but they have not allowed their belief to be encroached upon either by time or by man. We mean the few thousands of Ghebers or Parsis, who, during the great political and religious shipwreck of Persia, fleeing before the victorious sword of the Prophet, kept from Islam the treasure of their old belief, and who to this day, in the year 1879 of the Christian era, in the fire temples in Bombay, offer up sacrifices to the very same god who was sung by the unknown ancestors of Aryan race at a time which eludes the grasp of history.

James Darmesteter

  1.  Cf. Max Müller: "Lectures on the Science of Language," and "Lectures on the Science of Religion;" Michel Bréal, "Mélanges de Mythologie et de Linguistique."
  2.  Maury, "Histoire des Religions de la Grèce;" Preller, "Griechische Mythologie."
  3.   See Muir, "Sanscrit Texts," v. 58; Max Müller, "Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion," p. 284.
  4.   This Lord.
  5.   The cloud often compared to a tree branching out in the sky.
  6.   The fire (ignis) which is born in the waters of heaven in the form of lightning.
  7.   A sacred plant whose sap is offered to the gods. It is pressed between two stones to extract the sacred liquor.
  8.   The sea of the earth and the sea of the clouds.
  9.   See J. Darmesteter, "Ormazd et Ahriman," §§ 18-59.
  10.   Ormazd is the modern name, contracted from the ancient Ahura Mazda.
  11.   Which is the same word as the Sanskrit Asura.
  12.   The sun is also the bird of Zeus (Æschylus, the Suppliants).
  13.   That is to say "to their Supreme God."
  14.   G. Krek, "Einleitung in die Slavische Literatur-Geschichte."
  15.   "Ormazd et Ahriman," §§62, sq.
  16.   Praeterea coeli rationes ordine certo

Et varia annorum cernebant tempora vorti; Nec poterant quibus id fieret cognoscere causis. Ergo perfugium sibihabebant omnia Diveis Tradere, et ollorum nutu facere omnia flecti. In cœloque Deum sedes et templa locarunt, Per cœlum volvi quia nox et luna videtur, Luna, dies, et nox et noctis signa severa, Noctivagaeque faces cœli, flammaeque volantes, Nubita, sol, imbres, nix, ventei, fulmina, grando, Et rapidei fremitus, et murmurs magna minarum. — v. 1187.

  1.   In other systems, having regard to the eternity of the God and no longer to his immensity, boundless time became the first principle (Zarvan Akarana).
  2.   His mother.