CHALDEAN “VEDAS” OR “VEDIC” CHALDEES?
[The Manuscript of this essay in H.P.B.’s handwriting exists in the Adyar Archives. It has been originally published in The Theosophist, Vol. LXXXIII, No. 11, August, 1962, pp. 287-301.—Compiler.]
The oldest book in which the word “magic” is found—says the Christian Orientalist, François Lenormant, with a superb oblivion of the Vedic and Zoroastrian works—is the Bible. The first people who practiced it,—he adds—are the Chaldeans. But who were they? Neither philology nor ethnology are able to furnish us with any definite answer; and whether geographically or ethnographically considered, Chaldea is the subject of contradictory statements since the days of Herodotus down to our own.
Ptolemy the geographer tells us that Chaldea was the name of the S.W. part of ancient Babylonia, bordering on the confines of Arabia. At the same time, hardly a quarter of a century ago, “Ur of the Chaldees” or Chasdim of Abraham, was considered by many a critic, to have been a place of Mesopotamia, a castle of that name mentioned by Ammianus as situated between Nisibis and the Tigris. Of the Chaldeans as a nation, as little is known in history. Strabo calls them “a tribe” living on the borderland of Arabia. Herodotus mentions them as a contingent of the army of the Assyrians,* though the latter conquered them ages after the Chaldeans had been a civilized Empire; and
* [See The Histories of Herodotus, Vol. II, tr. by George Rawlinson; Book VII § 63; p. 146 in Everyman’s Lib. ed., London, Dent & Sons, 1964.]
Xenophon, in the history of the retreat of the ten thousand sees in them “a free and warlike people in the Carduchian hills”; somewhere near the mountains of Armenia then.* Even the very language of the Cushite Chaldea—that tongue in which the interlineary translation of the Akkadian inscriptions on the cylinders dug out on the sites of ancient Chaldea is made—is generally called by our philologists the “Assyrian,” whereas this language existed already in the days when the very name of Asshur in Noah’s genealogy had not been yet invented. Thus, no branch of Science being able to give the world anything definite about the Chaldeans, we have to be contented with our own surmises. Therefore, will we try to find out at least what this people could not be, since we cannot learn for a certainty what they were.
In the Mosaic account we first read of Chaldea (Genesis, x, 10) when Nimrod, the son of Cush and the grandson of Ham, conquers the four cities respectively named “Babel and Erech, and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar”; and again, when we are informed that Abraham “went forth from Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis, xi, 31). The Bible, causing the world to be created in the 710th year of the Julian period (4004 years B.C.), the Deluge to occur in 2348 and Abraham to be born in 1996 B.C. (which would allow but a period of 289 for the Chaldean or Akkadian civilization, preceded by another still more archaic to develop!), finally gets hopelessly entangled in its own chronology, and thus, owing to its own contradictions and lapsus calami proves quite the reverse of what it evidently intended to prove from the beginning. It plainly shows the existence of another and distinct element in Chaldea. A race, neither Hamitic nor Semitic but what is now called the Akkadian. Since the Bible mentions the city of Akkad as conquered by Nimrod, whose race-name is due to his genealogy, that city must have then existed before him; and the Cushite
* [See Book III, Ch. 5, 16 of The Anabasis, or Expedition of Cyrus . . . , literally translated from the Greek of Xenophon by Rev. J. S. Watson, New York, Harper & Bros., 1877.]
or Hamitic Nimrod himself not being a Chaldean by birth, it is clear that they could not be so named before his arrival. This people then, evidently preceded the savage race of the “mighty hunter before the Lord.” And they must have been a highly civilized nation long before the days of the Noachian “universal” deluge (of which geology certainly shows no traces), as it is well proved that Nimrod, now identified with Sargon I, found upon his arrival there a people, whose high culture was then at its climax. That nation, which had long since abandoned the nomadic pastoral state in which the patriarchal descendants of Shem indulged for ages yet to come, were these “mysterious” Akkadians or Chaldeans, whose name both upon classical and biblical authority designates not only a nation but that peculiar priestly caste initiated in and entirely devoted to the Sciences of astrology and magic. Held sacred in all ages, this peculiar learning was concentrated in Babylon and known in the remotest periods of history as a system of religious worship and Science which made the glory of the Chaldean.
Believed by some Orientalists to have belonged to the Indo-European or Caucasian race, regarded by others—of no less a great authority in Science—as Mongolian or Turanians, there is a deep veil of mystery thrown upon this people. We are told by the Assyriologists that they were the inventors of the cuneiform writing; the authors of the grand and elaborate literature so miraculously preserved on hundreds of thousands of tiles now dug out by George Smith, Layard and others. But on the other hand we know that the Akkadians, whether they be of the Turanian or Indo-European race, were themselves preceded by another still more mysterious people, . . . . . “most probably a darker race than they were” and whose remnants are found here and there in isolated groups near the Persian Gulf, thinks Prof. Rawlinson (The Five Great Monarchies).* Of this people there now remains no remembrance whatever. Their very name
* [See Ch. III, Vol. 1 & 2 of The Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World . . . by George Rawlinson, M.A., London, John Murray, 1871 (2nd ed.)]
has disappeared, but “we have to recognize their existence in our explanations of the ethnographical elements of primitive Chaldea,” says the author of the “Sketches of Chaldean Culture.”
For the better understanding of this theory which kills the last vestige of belief in or the possibility of a “Universal” Deluge, we will briefly collate together the several opinions of some men of science as of our latest Assyriologists and add them to the data we find in ancient writers. The Turanians, think our Orientalists, were not the first inhabitants of the Euphrates-Tigris valleys. Neither are they themselves a pure, primitive race, as it is a mixture of the white and yellow races, and the people who belong to it offer an infinite gradation of hues and types, a gradual descent from the pure European down to the Chinese type. Notwithstanding this, their common origin is shown in the affinities of language, religion and customs. The languages of the Turanian nations lack that firmness and definite form of a type which would enable us to call them a step towards the formation of the human speech, says Max Müller (The Languages of the Seat of War in the East, p. 88).* As to their religions, they “never rose higher than a form of gross naturalism which transforms all the phenomena of nature into two numberless hosts of Spirits good and bad and whose cultus consists unexceptionally of magic and incantations,” declares F. Lenormant (La Magie chez les Chaldéens, p. 184 ff.) †
Of the origin and primitive country of the Turanians as a race our men of science are less positive. The Turks and the Mongols, in general have a tradition that their race sprung somewhere near the southern slopes of the Mount Altai, in a valley hemmed in between inaccessible mountains full of minerals. Fire having come out one day from the bowels of the earth, one side of the mountain was destroyed and the primitive race emerged into the wide world. This
* [See 2nd ed., London, Williams & Norgate, 1855.]
† [Lenormant, François, La magie chez les Chaldéens et les origines Accadiennes, Paris, Maisonneuve et Cie, 1874.]
tradition agrees with that other one which caused the Eastern populations of Syria and Mesopotamia to point out their birth place East of their settlements, the Medo-Persians North. As to the Thibetans, they maintain that the forefathers of their Hobilgans and Shaberons, or the higher and initiated Lamas, were those wonderful men who lived on a fairy island, an Eden in the centre of Gobi when that dreary desert was yet a vast sea. They were giants in whom, passing from one to another, moved incessantly the Spirit of Fo, or Budda (the highest wisdom). As to the rest of the Lamas and Thibetans, they were ancestors created by the former from pieces of every plant, mineral and animal on the globe, which theory looks suspiciously like that of our modern evolutionists. In their turn, our men of science, who, but a few years ago yet, had to pretend in their official capacities at least, that they believed in the fable of Eden, declared at one time unanimously that the cradle of humanity was on the plateau of Pamir, whence flow out the four great rivers: Indus, Helmund, the Oxus, or Jehoona, and Jaxartes or Sir-Darya, the ancient Sihon. The separation of the Turanians took place in two directions: one branch went up northward and settled in the vicinity of Altai, the Aral Sea, and the valleys of the Ural mountains, from where after that it scattered along the North of Europe and Asia down to the Baltic on one side and up to the mouth of the Amur on the other; while the other and no less numerous tribes of Turan chose the Southern and Western direction, when some of them reached Armenia and Asia Minor, and others settled at the foot of the upland plateau of Iran in the valleys of Susiana and the shores of the Tigris and the Euphrates, where for ages they had anticipated the appearance of the Semites and the Cushites.
Thus the traditions of the quite savage and of the civilized but “inferior races,” as well as the scientific theories of the European or “superior” races, concur in this admirably. Whether the cradle of humanity is here or there, it circles within the limits of Central Asia. And, unless the catechism of Science accepts the doctrine of many and simultaneous “cradles” where multi-coloured humanity evolved each its
special type and colour—a theory which would impair the prettily concocted fable of Eden and the original sin still more, or at least limit it but to the forefathers of the Semites,—we the “superior” white races have to accept among other unpleasant things the disagreeable truth that our ancestors were as black and far blacker, perchance, than any of those we now look upon as the races to us inferior, for—they were the ASIATIC ETHIOPIANS!
This is the direct and logical deduction from the opinion of the men of Science, however many and contradictory these theories. Such are the facts drawn from the recent achievements of philology and ethnology. And if we have to accept truth whencesoever it comes, and vindicate facts, we will have to confess that a black or a very dark-skinned race of men once occupied Western Europe, were in short the aboriginies of Europe. “The Asiatic Ethiopians,” writes Professor Rawlinson,* “by their very name, which connects them so closely with the Cushite people inhabiting the country about Egypt, may be assigned to the Hamitic family, and this connection is confirmed by the uniform voice of primitive e antiquity, which spoke of the Ethiopian as a single race dwelling along the Southern Ocean, from India to the Pillars of Hercules . . . . .” “It is indeed true that the first men that appear on the arena of civilization were evidently of the stock which we denominate somewhat indiscriminately Hamitic, Cushite and Ethiopian,” says Dr. A. Wilder in his Black Nations of Europe. Their abodes were in no circumscribed region . . . . Their ethnical names imply as much. In ancient times Egypt was called “the land of Ham” (Psalms, cv, 23) from Kham, its chief diety; Susiana and Arabia were styled Kissoea and Cush; and the countries of the Hamitic races were called Æthiopia. Herodotus repeatedly mentions the Æthiopians of Asia, placing their country at the South of modern Afghanistan, now Kerman and Baluchistan. Homer speaks of Memnon as the son of Eos, or the Dawn; and Diodorus declares that he was King of the Ethiopians and built a palace at Susa, the
* [Op. cit. See pp. 47-49 on the “Cushite Origin of the Chaldeans.”]
Shushan of the Bible. The tradition to the effect that the Ethiopic race held Media, Babylonia, Assyria, Armenia and Asia Minor, including Iberia and Georgia seems to be corroborated by the latest discoveries. Rawlinson makes Baluchistan and Kerman their former center; but J. D. Baldwin, in his Prehistoric Nations, maintains that Arabia was the ancient Ethiopia.* And, in Long’s Classical Atlas† the Arabi are placed at the mouth of the Indus, on the Western bank. Eusebius declares that the Ethiopians came from India, whether Eastern or Western is not mentioned. “The India or Hoddu of the Book of Esther was Oude or the Puñjab; but the name India is vague and only signifies a river country. Sir W. Jones made Iran or Bactriana the original source of these peoples and supposed that a black or Ethiopian empire once ruled all Southern Asia, having its metropolis at Sidon. Godfrey Higgins, in the Anacalypsis suggests that it was Babylon . . . . . The dominion of Nimrod (Sargon I of the Assyrian cylinders or tiles) would seem to be thus indicated” (The Black Nations of Europe) .
Finally, Strabo, quoting Ephorus, says: “The Ethiopians were considered as occupying all the Southern coasts of both Asia and Africa, and as divided by the Red Sea into Eastern and Western Asiatic, and African.”‡
All this generalization of peoples under the one name of Ethiopians does not give us anything like a certain date as to who were the “dark race” which according to Prof. Rawlinson, Lenormant and others, preceded the Turano-Akkadians who themselves anticipated the Hamitic nation brought along by Nimrod; but it undeniably proves that they were dark-skinned though not necessarily for that, Negroes, nor even Hamites. The clearness of this
* [Baldwin, John D., Pre-historic Nations . . . p. 58-59. New York Harper & Bros., 1869.]
† [See map 3 of An Atlas of Classical Geography, constructed by Wm. Hughes, and edited by George Long, New York, Sheldon & Co., 1867.]
‡ [As quoted by Rawlinson Op. cit. p. 47.]
scientifically ethnological exposition appears all the more muddled yet by the philological attempt of Prof. Rawlinson to reconcile these contradictions. Accepting in that the lead of Max Müller who himself only sanctifies the suggestion of Professor Oppert, ascribing the original invention of the cuneiform characters and “a civilization anterior to that of Babylon and Nineveh to a Turanian or Scythian race”—Rev. George Rawlinson, the brother of our eminent archeologist, Sir Henry,—endeavours to assign to these Ethiopians a Turanian or Scytho-Tartar origin. “Hamitism,” he says, “although no doubt the form of speech out of which Semitism was developed, is itself Turanian rather than Semitic,” and adds in the shape of a more elaborate explanation “the Turanian is an earlier stage of the Hamitic.”
We shall turn then to this Scytho-Tartar race and see whether we can find anything in them to connect them either with the Turanian Chaldees or primitive “black race” to which belonged the authors of the earliest history, and records of the “religion of magic” now translated from the Assyrian cylinders.
On a quotation by Justinus* from an historical work by Trogus Pompeius, a manuscript lost since the second century of our era which states that primitively the whole of the boundary parts of Asia were in the possession of the Scythians who are also shown to be older than the Egyptians, in fact the most ancient people in the world: on the strength of this quotation and the Bible jumble, we suppose, it is now generally agreed to class these Asiatic Scythians with the Turanian races, attribute to them the invention of the cuneiform letters and say of the Akkadian language in which they are written, that, like the Sanskrit, it remained the language of the literature long after it had ceased to exist and had become a dead language.
Does this help us any more to learn who the Chaldeans were? Not at all. For we know of the Scythians—a generic name given to all the Asiatic tribes of the antiquity whose
* [De Historiarüs Philippicis libri, II, Ch. iii. See also Latin ed. of Otto Seel, Leipzig, B. G. Teubneri, Book II, Ch. 3, § 15, p. 20.]
history has remained unknown to us—as little, if not less than of the Akkadians whose language at least has been approximately found out by the philologists. From the accounts of Herodotus and Hippocrates about the Scythians we learn next to nothing, and it becomes next to impossible to connect them with the Chaldeans any more than with any other people before the seventh century B.C. And speaking of these Hippocrates describes their personal appearance as different from that of the rest of mankind and “like to nothing but itself.” Repulsive in the extreme, “their bodies are gross and fleshly; their joints are loose and yielding; the belly flabby. . . and all closely resemble one another.” A half-nomadic people, barbarous even in the days we are accustomed to look upon as such; warlike savages, is it of them that our modern Assyriologists say that “they took part in, and assisted in the most ancient culture of our human races”?*
The foundation and progress of which culture relates in the opinion of our Orientalists to such a hoary antiquity that the memory of it is lost even in the most ancient records of humanity; and whose language—now proved as having been the language of an immense literature—“was a dead language at least two thousand years B.C.”?†
Historically our records go no farther than a few centuries B.C. While the poet Aristeas shows the “Griffins” of the extreme North expelling the Cimmerians from their lands and, entering Media, by mistake, instead of Asia Minor, Niebuhr, contrary to the Herodotean account who quotes Aristeas makes the Median King Cyaxares who was besieging Nineveh meet the unexpected inroad of the Scythians, who after defeating him made themselves masters “as far as Palestine and the borders of Egypt.” On one hand Niebuhr, Böckh, Thirlwall and Grote maintain that the
* Lenormant, The First Civilizations. M. V. Nikolsky, Sketches of Chaldean Cultures and several others. [H.P.B. cites French edition of Lenormant later in this article.
Herodotean Scythians were Mongolians; and on the other, such authorities as Humboldt, Grim, Klaproth, Sir H. Rawlinson, seek to prove that they belonged to the Indo-European race.
With such a positive data in hand, we have no better means than to make the most we can of one unimpeachable material at hand, the autobiography of these people traced by their own hand for countless generations. But before we do so, we have to explain to the readers how the men of science view these famous cylinders, and what they are.
Owing to the constant efforts of the Orientalists a series of most unexpected, amazing discoveries were made for the last few years. Under heaps of garbage and mountains of crumbling ruins a whole library, which when translated, will be composed of many thousands of volumes, has recently been excavated. The subject of these records refers mostly to the development of the religious ideas of the aborigines of these regions where the world sees if not the cradle at least one of the cradles, and the principal one where humanity evoluted into its present shape. But they also contain the history of peoples and races of which we moderns had no idea. True, it is but a fragmentary history, of which, owing to so many tiles being broken and as many crumbled into dust, many a link is now missing; yet enough to show that, while cities and kingdoms and peoples, and whole races, some of them with the highest of civilizations rose and developed, but to degenerate and fall; and religions and philosophies, arts and sciences passing like Chinese shadows on the white walls of Time, appear—like all concrete and temporary things—but to disappear into the abyss of motionless Eternity; there are abstract ideas which never die. These ideas now attributed to superstition of the grossest kind and called incantations, belief in good and bad demons, in short MAGIC, are denounced in the most bitter way. On one hand it is the Christians who arrogate to themselves the monopoly of teaching the world about angels and devils in their own way; and on the other by the men of Science
who believe in neither and would destroy at one stroke every belief but in themselves.
The Orientalists think that the Turanians, the predecessors of Nimrod, entered the Euphrates-Tigris valley, having already a certain culture which they brought with them from another locality. Besides the cuneiform mode of writing which they had invented before their arrival, either they or the “black race” which they found there had another kind of characters, ideographic signs, a rude form of hieroglyphics which was used for expressing the symbolical image of whether a concrete object or an abstract idea. When these signs had acquired a phonetic value the ideographic forms gradually lost their character, the signs represented no more the objects which they symbolized but a simple combination of various arrow-headed lines mostly horizontal. They read from left to right, are either stamped or cut, occur on tablets cut in rocks, on stone-slabs, on bass-reliefs, on Assyrian winged bulls, on sun-baked or kiln-burnt bricks or small cylinders, on seals, some of the inscriptions being so minute as to require a microscope. All this system of signs answered fully to the agglutinative idiom of the Turanians, and were accepted by the Cushites of the Tigro-Euphratean valley at a much later period. The researches upon these elementary arrow-headed signs and their comparisons with material objects gave that important result that the cuneiform characters are now known to have originated in a more Northern region than Chaldea; in a land with quite another fauna and flora, where, for instance there were no lions but of wolves and bears in abundance, where neither the palm nor the vine were known but trees with acerose leaves, pines and firs abounded (G. Smith The Phonetic Values of the Cuneiform Characters, p. 4).*
While paleography helped by paleology proved so much, archaeology was discovering that the “oldest tombs in Chaldea carry us back to as great an antiquity as the Egyptian
* [Smith, George. Edition published in London, Williams & Norgate 1871.]
sarcophagi” (Lenormant, Les Premières Civilizations, Vol. I, p. 118).* The religion of the aborigines who preceded the alleged Turanians, notwithstanding the assertions of some Orientalists to the contrary, did not differ essentially from the latest form of the Chaldeo-Babylonian beliefs as now shown by the tiles and monuments. If one was a “rude form of primitive fetishism” so was the other, though personally we are inclined to believe that both were as philosophical at the bottom as any of the religious systems of antiquity or especially the one which followed and aided by sword and fire supplanted them. The very suggestive fact that the Chaldeans whose proficiency in mathematics and astronomy was renowned from the first glimpse of history could not very well be at the same time superstitious and fetish-worshipping fools, has never seemed to strike our Orientalists. None of them was ever known to remark that the people whom Aristotle found to have taken the most correct astronomical observations during a period of no less than 1903 years, could not at the same time credit “magic” and belief in incantations, talismans and amulets as they did, had not all these a more philosophical basis of truth in them than is suggested by these terms in our own century. Unless one makes a special study of that system by the light of occult Sciences, a student of these religious systems risks never to rise higher than dead letter superficiality. And it is not very likely that under the present circumstances and with the objurgation which rests upon the claims of psychology and the misunderstood phenomena of Spiritualism and Occultism especially, the Orientalist would go to that length. Their surest though hitherto unacknowledged guide in their opinions and sentences passed upon the “magic” of the ancients, are the magical rites and belief in good and bad demons as practiced under the name of religious doctrines in the Roman Catholic and Greek Eastern Church. For all the dead letter of Chaldean magic—useless and absurd incantations, ceremonial prayers and
* [Lenormant, François. See French edition: Paris, Maisonneuve, 1874, 2 vols.]
talismans—have passed part and parcel under the name of “exorcisms,” holy water, ceremonies and pope-blessed amulets and images of angels and Saints into the Catholic Christian Church.*
Hence we find it rather amusing to hear Mr. F. Lenormant, a zealous member of the Popish Church, express his opinion upon the religion of the Chaldees by stating that, no more than the rest of the ancient creeds, it “never rose higher than the worship of nature.” That solitary fact that the Akkadians represented our Earth in the shape of a boat, not oblong as those we are acquainted with, but perfectly round, like a slightly flattened ball with the top cut off, as was in use with the Chaldeans, and in incessant circling motion on the ocean of space, proves already that their Magi were far ahead of the Christian fathers, the early as the mediaeval ones. We doubt whether any of the former, with their enormous knowledge of astronomy, would have compared to an Augustine scouting the sphericity of the earth as it would prevent the antipodes from seeing the Lord Christ when he descended from heaven at the second advent; or a Lactantius, who thought it would make the men at the other side of the earth walk with their heads downward; or finally the holy wiseacres who came very nearly burning Galileo for his anti-scriptural blasphemy. Whether such prejudiced ideas about “Magic” will be much dispelled even now is what we still doubt. That Magic flourished among the Chaldeans as it did with the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Aryans and every other people was always known. But what was never known, owing to prejudice, was in what consisted that Magic. Even now that a whole library upon the subject is found by Layard and Smith on the ancient sites of Chaldea, unless they learn to read its contents by the light of other like works, our men of Science will never understand its significance. For they had the Vedas and the Zend-Avesta and the Book of the Dead, and
* What are the exorcisms of the Roman Catholic priests but “magic” and “incantations”? See the new Ritual of Exorcisms published in 1852 in Rome under the patronage of the Pope and compare.
found in them but the dead letter: the spirit escaped them. And yet, never had they a better chance. Transported to the British Museum that . . . . .
* * * * *
now the Orientalists believe they know all about it, François Lenormant gave these incantations even a name: he called them the “Chaldean Vedas”; but no more than his predecessors did he succeed to show as he thinks “the origin and importance of Magic with the Chaldeans.” (See La Magie chez les Chaldéens.)*
Before we can prove it more elaborately, we have to go back to the very sources of Magic; at least as far as the first glimpses of it appear in the hardly dispelling darkness of the past. Obliged to keep within the narrow limits of a journal article, we must avoid every useless disquisition and hold as much as possible to facts. Hence we will briefly pass in review the several hypotheses that various Orientalists and men of Science have evolved out of their fancy from the very meagre material and data they have at their disposal.
What they call Magic is simply incantations to numberless cosmical powers personified under the form of good and bad spirits. Of the religion of the Chaldees, Assyrians and others they say what Max Müller said already of the early Aryans and Herbert Spencer of the fetish-worshippers in general. A primitive and gross form of religion presenting various shades of fetishism. Watching over and in nature, fancy depicts as host of spirits which produce, guide and have control over every phenomenon in nature. In the low moaning of the wind, in the rustle of the leaves, in the roaring of the waves and the storm, in all the geological, astronomical and meteorological changes, in short the untutored minds of these primitive savages saw, heard and felt a special genius, a Spirit presiding over and inhabiting its
* [Op. cit. preface. Also on p. 116 Lenormant refers to his section on a “Véda Chaldéen” in volume II of his book Les Premières Civilisations, cited elsewhere.]
respective element, obscured, personified and deified. The Primitive Man “gives names to all the powers of nature, and after he has called the fire “Agni”, the sunlight “Indra”, the storms . . . . .
* * * * *
. . . we have to learn that these men lived in the very dawn of civilization, that they were what we now call pagans, or worse—fetish-worshippers. The light of Science, helped and preceded by the still brighter light of Christianity, chased such religious phantoms of polytheism and replaced them by exact knowledge and—Monotheism.