THE IDOLS AND THE TERAPHIM
[Originally published as Section xxvi, pp. 234-40, in the Volume entitled “The Secret Doctrine, Volume III,” which appeared in print in 1897. See Compiler’s footnote, p. 226 of the present volume.
We have indicated by square brackets those passages which occur, either verbatim or with slight alterations, in The Secret Doctrine, I, 394-395; II, 453, 455.]
[The meaning of the “fairy-tale” told by the Chaldean Qû-tâmy is easily understood.] His modus operandi with the “idol of the moon” was that of all the Semites, before Terah, Abraham’s father, made images—the Teraphim, called after him—or the “chosen people” of Israel ceased divining by them. These teraphim were-just as much “idols” as is any pagan image or statue.* The
* That the teraphim was a statue, and no small article either, is shown in I Samuel, xix, where Michal takes a teraphim (“image,” as it is translated) and puts it in bed to represent David, her husband, who ran away from Saul (see verse 13, et seq.). It was thus of the size and shape of a human figure—a statue or real idol.
injunction “Thou shalt not bow to a graven image,” or teraphim, must have either come at a later date, or have been disregarded, since the bowing-down to and the divining by the teraphim seems to have been so orthodox and general that the “Lord” actually threatens the Israelites, through Hosea, to deprive them of their teraphim.
For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king. . . . . without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim.*
Matzebah, or statue, or pillar, is explained in the Bible to mean “without an ephod and without teraphim.”
Father Kircher supports very strongly the idea that the statue of the Egyptian Serapis was identical in every way with those of the seraphim, or teraphim, in the temple of Solomon. Says Louis de Dieu:
They were, perhaps, images of angels, or statues dedicated to the angels, the presence of one of these spirits being thus attracted into a teraphim and answering the inquirers [consultants]; and in this hypothesis the word “teraphim” would become the equivalent of “seraphim” by changing the “t” into “s” in the manner of Syrians.†
What says the Septuagint? The teraphim are translated successively by —forms in someone’s likeness; eidôlon, an “astral body”; the sculptured; —sculptures in the sense of containing something hidden, or receptacles; —manifestations; —truths or realities; or —luminous, shining likenesses. The latter expression shows plainly what the teraphim were. The Vulgate translates the term by “annuntiantes,” the “messengers who announce,” and it thus becomes certain that the teraphim were the oracles. They were the animated statues, the Gods who revealed themselves to the masses through the Initiated Priests and Adepts in the Egyptian, Chaldaean, Greek, and other temples.
* Hosea, iii, 4.
† Louis de Dieu, Genesis, xxxi, 10. See De Mirville, Des Esprits, etc., 2nd Mémoire, Vol. II, p. 257.
[As to the way of divining, or learning one’s fate, and of being instructed by the teraphim,* it is explained quite plainly by Maimonides and Seldenus. The former says:
The worshippers of the teraphim claimed that the light of the principal stars [planets], penetrating into and filling the carved statue through and through, the angelic virtue [of the regents, or animating principle in the planets] conversed with them, teaching them many most useful arts and sciences.†
* “The Teraphim of Abram’s father, Terah, the ‘maker of images,’ were the Kabeiri gods, and we see them worshipped by Micah, by the Danites, and others. (Judges, xvii, xviii.) Teraphim were identical with the seraphim, and these were serpent-images, the origin of which is in the Sanskrit sarpa (the serpent), a symbol sacred to all the deities as a symbol of immortality. Kiyun, or the god Kivan, worshipped by the Hebrews in the wilderness, is Siva, the Hindu, as well as Saturn. (The Zendic H is S in India. Thus Hapta is Sapta; Hindu is Sindhaya.—A. Wilder. ‘. . . the S continually softens to H from Greece to Calcutta, from the Caucasus to Egypt,’ says Dunlap. Therefore the letters K, H, and S are interchangeable.) (J. D. Guigniaut, Les religions de l’antiquite, Vol. I, p. 167.) The Greek story shows that Dardanus, the Arcadian, having received them as a dowry, carried them to Samothrace, and from thence to Troy; and they were worshipped far before the days of glory of Tyre or Sidon, though the former had been built 2760 B.C. From where did Dardanus derive them?”—Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, p. 570.
[Remarks and references appearing in parentheses in the above footnote are H.P.B.’s own footnotes appended to this passage in Isis Unveiled.—Compiler.]
† Maimonides, Moreh Nebhuchim, III, xxix.
[This passage is from Part III, chapter xxix of Moreh Nebhuchim (The Guide of the Perplexed). M. Friedländer’s annotated translation from the original Hebrew (Hebrew Publishing Co., New York, 1881, p. 138 of 3rd Part) is as follows:
“In accordance with the Sabean theories (Cf. Chwolson, Nabath. Agric., II, 390, 396) images were erected to the stars, golden images to the sun, images of silver to the moon, and they attributed the metals and the climates to the influences of the planets, saying that a certain planet is the god of a certain zone. They built temples, placed in them images, and assumed that the stars sent forth their influence upon these images, which are thereby enabled to understand, to comprehend, to inspire human beings, and to tell them what is useful to them.”
In his turn Seldenus explains the same, adding that the teraphim* were built and fashioned in accordance with the position of their respective planets, each of the teraphim being consecrated to a special “star-angel,” those that the Greeks called stoicheia, as also according to figures located in the sky and called the “tutelary Gods”:
Those who traced out the were called or the diviners by the planets and the . †
* Those dedicated to the sun were made in gold, and those to the moon in silver.
† De Diis Syriis, Syntagmata I, cap. ii, “De Teraphim Labanis, etc.”
[This reference is to a rare work of John Selden (1584-1654) on the “Syrian Deities” (London: G. Stansleius, 1617. 8-vo. British Museum 19735. Also in Opera Omnia. London: Richard Sare, 1726, where the passage quoted can be found in Vol. II, Part I, col. 282). H. P. B. paraphrases part of Selden’s passage and quotes directly the last sentence thereof. The entire passage in its Latin original is as follows:
“ . . . . . Aureas faciebant vetustissimi Orientalium Zabii, sive Chaldaei, ey quorum libris plurima retulit R. Moses Aegyptius, & Argenteas effigies. Has Lunae, illas Soli dicebant: & aedificaverunt palatia, ut scribit ille in More Nebochim lib. III, cap. XXIX & posuerunt in eis imagines, & dixerunt quod splendor potentiarum stellarum diffundebatur super illas imagines, & loquebantur cum hominibus, & annunciabant eis utilia. Quod optima cum eis quadrat, qui secundum praecepta astrologia ra Teraphim fieri solita, & ad certos syderum positus, volunt (quemadmodum ea quae Graecis dicuntur) & secundum figuras in coela creditas, uti velut seu averrunci Dii essent, formata. Nec sane quantum ad astrologium rationem spectat, a Teraphim disserunt, nisi quod haec futuris praecidendis, illa arcendis malis fuerint destinata. Qui vero formabant, dicebantur.”
In W. A. Hauser’s translation of Selden’s work, published under the title of The Fabulous Gods denounced in the Bible (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1880, 178 pp. 12-vo; Brit. Museum 3103. bb. 22), the following translation of this entire passage can be found (chap. 2, p. 29):
“The Zabeans and Chaldeans, the most ancient of Orientals, made golden and silver effigies. The golden ones were dedicated to the sun and the silver ones to the moon. Moses, the Egyptian, says, ‘They built palaces, placed these images in them, and they
Ammianus Marcellinus states that the ancient divinations were always accomplished with the help of the “spirits” of the elements (spiritus elementorum), or as they are called in Greek .]* Now the latter are not the “spirits” of the stars [planets], nor are they divine Beings; they are simply the creatures inhabiting their respective elements, called by the Kabalists elementary spirits, and by the Theosophists elementals.† Father Kircher, the Jesuit, tells the reader:
said that the splendor of the most potent stars was diffused among them; and they spoke with men, and announced useful things to them.’ That very much tallies with those who are inclined to believe according to astrological precepts, that they were formed as the Teraphims were, and under certain positions of the stars, in the same manner as those among the Greeks, which were called Stoicheia, or images to drive away evil, and, according to figures, believed to be in heaven, so as if they might be gods to drive away evil. Nor was there much in any astrological reason for a difference in the Stoicheia of the Greeks and the Teraphims of the Hebrews, unless the former were destined to drive away whatever was bad, and the latter for predicting future events.”
With minor word modifications, the remarks concerning Maimonides and Seldenus can also be found in The Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, p. 394.—Compiler.]
* [Reference is here made to Ammianus Marcellinus’ History, Book XXI, chap. i, 8, the original Latin text of the passage being as follows:
“8. Elementorum omnium spiritus, utpote perennium corporum praesentiendi motu semper et ubique vigens, ex his, quae per disciplinas varias affectamus, participat nobiscum munera divinandi: et substantiales potestates ritu diverso placatae, velut ex perpetuis fontium venis, vaticina mortalitati suppeditant verba. . .” John C. Rolfe (Loeb Classical Series) translates it as follows:
“8. The spirit pervading all the elements, seeing that they are eternal bodies, is always and everywhere strong in the power of prescience, and as the result of the knowledge which we acquire through varied studies makes us also sharers in the gifts of divination; and the elemental powers, when propitiated by divers rites, supply mortals with words of prophecy, as if from the veins of inexhaustible founts.”
† Those that the Kabalists call elementary spirits are sylphs, gnomes, undines and salamanders, nature-spirits, in short. The spirits of the angels formed a distinct class.
Every god had such instruments of divination to speak through. Each had his specialty. Serapis gave instruction on agriculture; Anubis taught sciences; Horus advised upon psychic and spiritual matters; Isis was consulted on the rising of the Nile, and so on.*
This historical fact, furnished by one of the ablest and most erudite among the Jesuits, is unfortunate for the prestige of the “Lord God of Israel” with regard to his claims to priority and to his being the one living God. Jehovah, on the admission of the Old Testament itself, conversed with his elect in no other way, and this places him on a par with every other Pagan God, even of the inferior classes. In Judges, xvii, we read of Micah having an ephod and a teraphim fabricated, and consecrating them to Jehovah (see the Septuagint and the Vulgate); these objects were made by a founder from the two hundred shekels of silver given to him by his mother. True, King James’ “Holy Bible” explains this little bit of idolatry by saying:
In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.†
Yet the act must have been orthodox, since Micah, after hiring a priest, a diviner, for his ephod and teraphim, declares: “Now know I that the Lord will do me good.” And if Micah’s act—who
Had an house of Gods, and made an ephod and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons‡
* Oedipus Aegyptiacus, Vol. II, Pars Altera, Cl. XI, cap. iii, p. 444.
[The original Latin text of this entire passage, according to the ed. of Vitalis Mascardi, Rome, 1653, is as follows:
“In omnibus fere Ægypti Nomis Oraculum fuisse reperio, in quo responsa de variis euentibus acciperent consulentes: neque tamen singula Oracula de singulis sibi propositis respondebant; sed de iis solummodò rebus naturae eorum consentaneis. Hoc pacto Serapidis Oraculum circa ea quae terrae cultum concernebant; Anubidis circa ea, quae Scientias; Hori circa ea, quae bona corporis & animae; Isidis circa ea, quae aut Nilum, aut foecunditatem concernebant, consulebatur.”
† [Judges, xvii, 6.]
‡ [Judges, xvii, 5.]
to their service, as also to that of the “graven image” dedicated “unto the Lord” by his mother—now seems prejudicial, it was not so in those days of one religion and one lip. How can the Latin Church blame the act, since. Kircher, one of her best writers, calls the teraphim “the holy instruments of primitive revelations”; since Genesis shows us Rebecca going “to enquire of the Lord,”* and the Lord answering her (certainly through the teraphim), and delivering to her several prophecies? And if this be not sufficient, there is Saul, who deplores the silence of the ephod,† and David who consults the thummim, and receives oral advice from the Lord as to the best way of killing his enemies.
The thummim and urim, however—the object in our days of so much conjecture and speculation—was not an invention of the Jews, nor had it originated with them, despite the minute instruction given about it by Jehovah to Moses. For the priest-hierophant of the Egyptian temples wore a breast-plate of precious stones, in every way similar to that of the high priest of the Israelites.
The high-priests of Egypt wore suspended on their necks an image of sapphire, called Truth, the manifestation of truth becoming evident in it.
Seldenus is not the only Christian writer who assimilates the Jewish to the Pagan teraphim, and expressed a conviction that the former had borrowed them from the Egyptians. Moreover, we are told by Döllinger, a preëminently Roman Catholic writer:
The teraphim were used and remained in many Jewish families to the days of Josiah.‡
As to the personal opinion of Döllinger, a papist, and of Seldenus, a Protestant—both of whom trace Jehovah
* Genesis, xxv, 22, et seq.
† The ephod was a linen garment worn by the high priest, but as the thummim was attached to it, the entire paraphernalia of divination was often comprised in that single word, ephod. See I Sam., xxviii, 6, and xxx, 7, 8.
‡ Paganisme et Judaïsme, Vol. IV, p. 197.
in the teraphim of the Jews and “evil spirits” in those of the Pagans—it is the usual one-sided judgment of odium theologicum and sectarianism. Seldenus is right, however, in arguing that in the days of old, all such modes of communication had been primarily established for purposes of divine and angelic communications only. But
The holy Spirit (spirits, rather) spake [not] to the children of Israel [alone] by urim and thummim, while the tabernacle remained,
as Dr. A. Cruden would have people believe. Nor had the Jews alone need of a “tabernacle” for such a kind of theophanic, or divine communication; for no Bath-Kol (or “Daughter of the divine Voice”), called thummim, could be heard whether by Jew, Pagan, or Christian, were there not a fit tabernacle for it. The “tabernacle” was simply the archaic telephone of those days of Magic when Occult powers were acquired by Initiation, just as they are now. The nineteenth century has replaced with an electric telephone the “tabernacle” of specified metals, wood, and special arrangements, and has natural mediums instead of high priests and hierophants. Why should people wonder, then, that instead of reaching Planetary Spirits and Gods, believers should now communicate with no greater beings than elementals and animated shells—the demons of Porphyry? Who these were, he tells us candidly in his work On the Good and Bad Demons;
They whose ambition is to be taken for Gods, and whose leader demands to be recognized as the Supreme God.*
Most decidedly—and it is not the Theosophists who will ever deny the fact—there are good as well as bad spirits, beneficent and malevolent “Gods” in all ages. The whole trouble was and still is, to know which is which. And this, we maintain, the Christian Church knows no more than her profane flock. If anything
* De abstinentia, II, 41, 42.
proves this, it is, most decidedly, the numberless theological blunders made in this direction. It is idle to call the Gods of the heathen “devils,” and then to copy their symbols in such a servile manner, enforcing the distinction between the good and the bad with no weightier proof than that they are respectively Christian and Pagan. [The planets—the elements of the Zodiac—have not figured only at Heliopolis as the twelve stones called the “mysteries of the elements” (elementorum arcana). On the authority of many an orthodox Christian writer they were found also in Solomon’s temple, and may be seen to this day in several old Italian churches, and even in Notre Dame of Paris.]
One would really say that the warning in Clement’s Stromateis has been given in vain, though he is supposed to quote words pronounced by St. Peter. He says:
Do not adore God as the Jews do, who think they are the only ones to know Deity and fail to perceive that, instead of God, they are worshipping angels, archangels, the months, and the moon.*
Who after reading the above can fail to feel surprise that, notwithstanding such understanding of the Jewish mistake, the Christians are still worshipping the Jewish Jehovah, the Spirit who spoke through his teraphim! That this is so, and that Jehovah was simply the “tutelary genius,” or spirit, of the people of Israel—only one of the pneumata tôn stoicheiôn (or “great spirits of the elements”), not even a high “Planetary”—is demonstrated on the authority of St. Paul and of Clemens Alexandrinus, if the words they use have any meaning. With the latter, the word signifies not only elements but also
* Stromata, lib. VI, cap. v.
[The Latin original of this thought is as follows:
“Neque colite ut Judaei: etenim illi, solo se Deum nosse putantes, nesciunt se adorare angelos et archangelos, mensem et lunam. . . .” (Migne, Patr. Curs. Compl., Ser., Lat., 1890)—Comp.]
Generative cosmological principles, and notably the signs [or constellations] of the Zodiac, of the months, days, the sun and the moon.*
The expression is used by Aristotle in the same sense. He says, ,† while Diogenes Laërtius calls the twelve signs of the Zodiac.‡ Now having the positive evidence of Ammianus Marcellinus to the effect that
Ancient divination was always accomplished with the help of the spirits of the elements, §
or the same , and seeing in the Bible, numerous passages that (a) the Israelites, including Saul and David, resorted to the same divination, and used the same means; and (b) that it was their “Lord”—namely, Jehovah—who answered them, what else can we believe Jehovah to be than a “spiritus elementorum”?
Hence one sees no great difference between the “idol of the moon”—the Chaldaean teraphim through which spoke Saturn—and the idol of urim and thummim, the organ of Jehovah. Occult rites, scientific at the beginning—and forming the most solemn and sacred of sciences—have fallen through the degeneration of mankind into Sorcery, now called “superstition.” As Diodorus Siculus explains in his Historical Library:
The Kaldhi, having made long observations on the planets and knowing better than anyone else the meaning of their motions and
* Discourse to the Gentiles, p. 146.
[This ref. has not been verified.—Comp.]
† De generatione animalium, lib. II, iii.
[This refers to Aristotle’s statement concerning a special substance contained in the pneuma, itself contained within the semen of man. He says that “this substance is analogous to the element which belongs to the stars.” According to other notations, the reference is 736b, line 39.—Comp.]
‡ [Ref. in de Mirville, Des Esprits, etc., Vol. IV, p. 77, where the footnote says: Commented on by Ménage, lib. Vl, 101, no definite work by Menage is mentioned, nor any specific ref. to Diogenes Laërtius given.]
§ [History, Book XXI, chap. i, 8.]
their influences, predict to people their futurity. They regard their doctrine of the five great orbs—which they call interpreters, and we, planets—as the most important. And though they allege that it is the sun that furnishes them with most of the predictions for great forthcoming events, yet they worship more particularly Saturn . . . Such predictions made to a number of kings, especially to Alexander, Antigonus, Seleucus Nicator, etc., . . . . . . have been so marvellously realized that people were struck with admiration.*
[It follows from the above that the declaration made by Qû-tâmy, the Chaldaean Adept—to the effect that all that he means to impart in his work to the profane had been told by Saturn to the moon, by the latter to her idol, and by that idol, or teraphim, to himself, the scribe—no more implied idolatry than did the practice of the same method by King David. One fails to perceive in it, therefore, either an apocrypha or a “fairy-tale.”] The above-named Chaldaean Initiate lived at a period far anterior to that ascribed to Moses, in whose day the Sacred Science of the sanctuary was still in a flourishing condition. It began to decline only when such scoffers as Lucian had been admitted, and the pearls of the Occult Science had been too often thrown to the hungry dogs of criticism and ignorance.
* Hist. Libr., Book II, xxix-xxxi.
[The above excerpt from Diodorus Siculus’ Bibliothêkê istorikê is more in the nature of a summary of his description, rather than a direct quote from his text. Especially with regard to the sentence mentioning the Sun and Saturn. C. H. Oldfather’s translation (Loeb Classical Library) of the entire sentence runs as follows (Book II, xxx):
“But above all in importance, they say, is the study of the influence of the five stars known as planets, which they call ‘Interpreters’ when speaking of them as a group, but if referring to them singly, the one named Cronus by the Greeks, which is the most conspicuous and presages more events and such as are of greater importance than the others, they call the star of Helius, whereas the other four they designate as the stars of Ares, Aphrodite, Hermes, and Zeus, as do our astrologers.”