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by Richard Carrier
OF all the weird, fanciful, and fabulous stories appertaining to the Gods and other spiritual entities of the olden times, whose capricious adventures we find so profusely narrated in oriental mythology -- of all the strange, mythical and mystical feats, and ever-varying and ever-diverging changes in the shape, appearance, sex, and modes of manifestation which characterize the hobgoblins or ghostly beings which comprise the esoteric stock of the ancient mysteries, that appertaining to the third member of "the hypostatic union," the Holy Ghost, seems to stand pre-eminent. And I propose here to submit the facts to show that the Holy Ghost story of the Christian Gospels, like the more ancient pagan versions of the same story, is marked by the same wild, discordant and legendary characteristics which abound in all the accounts of gods and ghosts found recorded in the religious books of various nations.
The following brief exposition of the history and exploits of this anomalous, nondescript, chameleon-like being will clearly evince that the same fanciful, metaphorical and fabulous changes in the size, shape, sex and appearance of this third limb of the triune God are found in the Christian Scriptures which are disclosed in the more ancient oriental traditions.
We will first exhibit a classification of the names and characteristics of this imaginary being drawn from the gospels and epistles of the Christian bible, by which it will be observed that scarcely any two references to it agree in assigning it the same character or attributes.
Such are the ever-shifting scenes presented in the Scripture panorama of the Holy Ghost. Surpassing the fabulous changes of some of the more ancient demigods, the Christian Holy Ghost undergoes (as is shown by the above-quoted texts) a perpetual metathesis or metamorphosis -- being variously presented on different occasions as a personal and rational being, a dove, a spirit, an inanimate object, a God, the wind or a wind, an ointment, the breath or a breath, cloven tongue of fire, a bird, or some other flying recumbent animal, a revelator or divine messenger, a medium or element for baptism, an intelligent, speaking being, a lifeless, bodiless, sexless being, a measurable fluid substance, a being possessing a body, ponderable, unconscious substance, a God dwelling within a God, and, finally -- though really first in order -- the author or agent of the incarnation of the second God in the Trinity (Jesus Christ). That many of these fabulous conceptions were drawn from mythological sources will be made manifest by the following facts of history: --
- In John xiv. 26, the Holy Ghost is spoken of as a person or personal God.
- In Luke iii. 22, the Holy Ghost changes, and assumes the form of a dove.
- In Matt. xiii. 16, the Holy Ghost becomes a spirit.
- In John i. 32, the Holy Ghost is presented as an inanimate, senseless object.
- In John v. 7, the Holy Ghost becomes a God -- the third member of the Trinity.
- In Acts ii. I, the Holy Ghost is averred to be "a mighty, rushing wind."
- In Acts x. 38, the Holy Ghost, we infer, from its mode of application, is an ointment.
- In John XX. 22, the Holy Ghost is the breath, as we legitimately infer by its being breathed into the mouth of the recipient after the ancient oriental custom.
- In Acts ii. 3, we learn the Holy Ghost "sat upon each of them," probably in the form of a bird, as at Jesus' baptism.
- In Acts ii. i, the Holy Ghost appears as "cloven tongues of fire."
- In Luke ii. 26, the Holy Ghost is the author of a revelation or inspiration.
- In Acts viii. 17, the Holy Ghost is a magnetic aura imparted by the "laying on of hands."
- In Mark i. 8, the Holy Ghost is a medium or element for baptism.
- In Acts xxviii. 25, the Holy Ghost appears with vocal organs, and speaks.
- In Heb. vi. 4, the Holy Ghost is dealt out or imparted by measure.
- In Luke iii. 22, the Holy Ghost appears with a tangible body.
- In Luke 1, 5, and many other texts, we are taught people are filled with the Holy Ghost.
- In Matt. xi. 15, the Holy Ghost falls upon the people as a ponderable substance.
- In Luke iv. i, the Holy Ghost is a God within a God "Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost."
- In Acts xxi. ii, the Holy Ghost is a being of the masculine or feminine gender -- "Thus saith the Holy Ghost," etc.
- In John i. 32, the Holy Ghost is of the neuter gender it (the Holy Ghost) abode upon him."
- In Matt. i. 18, the Holy Ghost becomes a vicarious agent in the procreation of another God; that is, this third member of the Trinity aids the first member (the Father) in the creation or generation of the second member of the trinity of bachelor Gods -- the Word, or Savior, or Son of God.
Other cases might be cited, proving the same point.
- The Holy Ghost in the shape of a bird, a dove or a pigeon. This is proven to be a very ancient pagan tradition, as it is found incorporated in several of the oriental religious systems. In ancient India, whose prolific spiritual fancies constitute the primary parentage of nearly all the doctrines, dogmas and superstitions found incorporated in the Christian Scriptures, a dove was uniformly the emblem of the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of God. Confirmatory of this statement, we find the declaration in the Anacalypsis, that a "dove stood for or represented a third member of the Trinity, and was the regenerator or regeneratory power." This meets the Christian idea of "regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." (Titus iii. 5.) A person being baptized under the Brahminical theocracy was said to be regenerated and born again," or, as the above-quoted writer expresses it, "They were born into the spirit, or the spirit into them -- that is, the "dove into or upon them," (As vide the case of the Christian's "Holy Ghost descending in bodily shape like a dove," and alighting on Christ's head at baptism, as related in Luke iii. 22.) In ancient Rome a dove or pigeon was the emblem of the female procreative energy, and frequently a legendary spirit, the accompaniment of Venus. And hence, as a writer remarks, "it is very appropriately represented as descending at baptism in the character of the third member of the Trinity." The same writer tells us, "The dove fills the Grecian oracles with their spirit and power." We find the dove, also, in the romantic eclogues of ancient Syria. In the time-chiseled Syrian temple of Hierapolis, Semiramis is represented with a dove on her head, thus constituting the prototype of the dove on the head of the Christian Messiah at baptism. And a dove was in more than one of the ancient religious systems -- "The Spirit of God (Holy Ghost) moving on the face of the waters" at creation, as implied in Gen. i. 2, though a pigeon, was often indiscriminately substituted. In Howe's "Ancient Mysteries" it is related that "in St. Paul's Cathedral, at the feast of Whitsuntide, the descent of the Holy Ghost was performed by a white pigeon being let fly out of a hole in the midst of the roof of the great aisle." The dove and the pigeon, being but slight variations of the same species of the feathered tribe, were used indiscriminately.
- As evinced above, the Holy Ghost was the third member of the Trinity in several of the oriental systems. Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or Father, Word and Holy Ghost (i John v. 7), are familiar Christian terms to express the divine triad, which shows the Holy Ghost to be the acknowledged third member of the Christian Trinity And, as already suggested, the same is true of the more ancient systems. "The Holy Spirit and the Evil Spirit were, each in their turn (says Mr. Higgins), third member of the Trinity." We might, if space would allow, draw largely upon the ancient defunct systems in proof of this statement. "In these triads (says Mr. Hillell) the third member, as might be supposed, was not of equal rank with the other two." And hence, in the Theban Trinity, Khonso was inferior to Arion and Mant. In the Hindoo triad, Siva was subordinate to Brahma and Vishnu. And a score of similar examples might be adduced from the fancy-constructed trinities of other and older oriental religious systems (but for the inflexible rule of brevity which forbids their presentation here), with all of which the more modern Holy Ghost conception of the Christian world is an exact correspondence, as this imaginary, fabulous being is less conspicuous than and has always stood third in rank with the Father and second to the Son, alias the Word, and is now seldom addressed in practical Christian devotion; and thus the analogy is complete. Mr. Maurice says, This notion of a third person in the Deity (the Holy Ghost) was diffused among all the nations of the earth." See Ind. Antiq. vol. iv. p. 750.) And Mr. Worseley, in his "Voyage" (vol. i.p. 259), avers this doctrine to be "of very great antiquity, and generally received by all the Gothic and Celtic nations."
- The Holy Ghost was the Holy Breath which, in the Hindoo traditions, moved on the face of the waters at creation, and imparted life and vitality into everything created. A similar conception is recognized in the Christian Scriptures. In Psalms xxxiii. 6, we read, "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth." Here is the Brahminical conception, square out, of the act of creation by the Divine Breath, which is the Holy Ghost, the same, also, which was breathed into Adam, by which he became "a living soul." M. Dubois observes, "The Prana, or principle of life, of the Hindoos is the breath of life by which the Creator (Brahma) animates the clay, and man became a living soul." (Page 293.)
- Holy Ghost, Holy Breath and Holy Wind appear to have been synonymous and convertible terms for the living vocal emanations from the mouth of the Supreme God, as memorialized in several of the pagan traditions. The last term (Holy Wind) is suggested by "the mighty rushing wind from heaven" which filled the house, or church, on the day of Pentecost. (See Acts ii. 2.) Several of the old religious systems recognize "the Holy Wind" as a term for the Holy Ghost. The doxology (reported by a missionary) in the religious service of the Syrian worship runs thus: --
"Praise to the Holy Spiritual Wind, which is the Holy Ghost;
Praise to the three persons which are one true God."
Some writers maintain that the Hebrew Ruh Aliem, translated "Spirit of God" (Gen. i. 2) in our version, should read, "Wind of the Gods." And we find that the word Pneuma, of our Greek New Testament, is sometimes translated "Ghost" and sometimes "Wind," as best suited the fancy of the translators. In John iii. 5, we find the word Spirit, and in verse eight both Wind and Spirit are found. and in Luke i. 35, we observe the term Holy Ghost -- all translated from the same word. Let it be specially noted that in the Greek Testament the word Pneuma is used in all these cases, thus proving that Spirit, Holy Ghost and Wind are used in the Christian Scriptures as synonymous terms; and proving, also, that an unwarranted license has been assumed by translators in rendering the same word three different ways. M. Auvaroff, in his "Essays on the Eleusinian Mysteries," speaks of "the torch being ignited at the command of Hermes of Egypt, the spiritual agent in the workshop of creation;" relative to which statement a writer remarks, "Hermes appears in this instance as a personification of Wind or Spirit, as in the bible (meaning the Christian bible), God, Wind and Spirit are often interchangeable terms, and the Word appears to be from the same windy source."
- The Holy Ghost as "a tongue of fire, which sat upon each of them" (the apostles). (See Acts. ii. 3.) Even this conception is an orientalism. Mr. Higgins tells us that "Budha, an incarnate God of the Hindoos (three thousand years ago), is often seen with a glory or tongue of fire upon his head." And the tradition of the visible manifestation of the Holy Ghost by fire was prevalent among the ancient Budhists, Celts, Druids and Etrurians. In fact, as our, author truly remarks, "The Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, when visible, was always in the form of fire (or a bird), and was always accompanied with wisdom and power." Hence, is disclosed the origin of the ancient custom amongst the Hindoos, Persians and Chaldeans, of making offerings to the solar fire, emblem of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit.
- Inspiration by the Holy Ghost. (Luke ii. 26.) "Holy men of God," including some of the prophets, are claimed to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost. (See 2 Peter i. 21; Acts xxviii. 25.) In like manner, as we are informed by Mr. Cleland in his "Specimens" (see Appendix, the ancient Celts were not only "moved by the Holy Ghost" in their divine decrees and prophetic utterances, but they claimed that their Salic laws (seventy-two in number) were inspired by the "Salo Ghost" (Holy Ghost), known also as "the Wisdom of the Spirit, or the Voice of the Spirit." This author several times alludes to the fact, and exhibits the proof, that the doctrine of the Holy Ghost was known to this ancient people.
- The Holy Ghost imparted by "the laying on of hands." This, too, is an ancient oriental custom. "And by the imposition of hands on the head of the candidate," says Mr. Cleland, speaking of the Celts, "the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, was conveyed." And thus was the Holy Spirit, Ghost, Gas, Wind, Electrical Fire or Spirit of Authority imparted to the hierophant or gospel novitiate. "And their public assemblies" continues our author, "were always opened by an invocation to the Holy Ghost."
- Baptism by or into the Holy Ghost accompanied with fire. (Matt. iii. ii.) This rite, too, is traceable to a very ancient period, and was practiced by several of the old symbolical and mythological systems. The Tuscans, or Etrurians, baptized with fire, wind (ghost) and water. Baptism into the first member of the Trinity (the Father) was with fire; baptism into the second member of the Trinity (the Word) was with water; while baptism into the third member of the Trinity (the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit) consisted of the initiatory spiritual or symbolical application of gas, gust, ghost, wind, or spirit. It appears from "Herbert's Travels," that, in "ancient countries, the child was taken to the priest, who named him (christened him) before the sacred fire;" after which ceremony he was sprinkled with "holy water" from a vessel made of the sacred tree known as "The Holme."
- The Holy Ghost imparted by breathing. (See John xx. 22). "Sometimes," says Mr. Higgins, relative to this custom among the ancient heathen, "the priest blew his breath upon the child, which was then considered baptized by air, spiritus sanctus, or ghost -- i.e., baptism by the Holy Ghost." In case of baptism, a portion of the Holy Ghost was supposed to be transferred from the priest to the candidate. "The practice of breathing in or upon," says our author, "was quite common among the ancient heathen."
- The Holy Ghost as the agent in divine conception, or the procreation of other Gods. Jesus is said to have been conceived by the Holy Ghost (see Matt. i. 18), and we find similar claims instituted still more anciently for other incarnate demigods. In the Mexican Trinity, Y, 'Zona' was the father, 'Bacal' the Word, and 'Echvah' the Holy Ghost, by the last of whom Chimalman conceived and brought forth the enfleshed God Quexalcote. (See Mex. Ant., vol. vi. p. 1650.) In the Hindoo mythos, Sakia was conceived by the Holy Ghost Nara-an.
Thus, we observe that the various heterogeneous conceptions, discordant traditions, and contradictory superstitions appertaining to that anomalous nondescript being known as the Holy Ghost, are traceable to various oriental countries, and to a very remote antiquity.
We will only occupy space with one or two more historical citations of a general nature, tending to prove the prevalence of this ghostly myth in other countries, not yet cited. "Tell me, O thou strong in fire!" ejaculated Sesostris of Egypt, to the oracle, as reported by Manetho, "who before me could subjugate all things, and who shall after me ?" But the oracle rebuked him, saying, "First God, then the Word, and with them the Spirit." (See Nimrod, vol. i.p. 119.) "And Plutarch, in his 'Life of Numa,'" says our oft-quoted author, "shows that the incarnation of the Holy Spirit was known both to the ancient Romans and Egyptians."
The doctrine is thus shown to have been nearly universal.
ORIGIN OF THE HOLY GHOST SUPERSTITIONThe origin of the tradition respecting this fabulous and mythical being is easily traced to the ancient Brahminical trifold conception of the Deity, in which stands, in Trinity order, first, the God of power or might -- Brahma or Brahm (the Father); second, the God of creation -- the Word -- answering to John's creative Word (see John i. 3); and third the God of generation and regeneration -- the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. The last member of the triune conception of the Deity was considered, under the Brahminical theocracy, the living, vital, active, life-imparting agent in both the first and second births of men and the gods.
It will be borne in mind by the reader that the Holy Ghost is represented in the Christian Scripture as being the active generating agent of Christ's conception, he being, as Matthew declares, "conceived by the Holy Ghost." The Holy Ghost was also the regenerating agent at his baptism. Although the specific object of the descent of the Holy Ghost on that occasion is not stated by Luke, who relates it; although it is not stated for what purpose the Holy Spirit, after assuming the form of a bird, alighted and sat upon his head, yet the motive is fully disclosed in the older mythical religions, where we find the matter in fuller detail.
Baptism itself is claimed by all its Christian votaries as regenerating or imparting a new spiritual life; and this new spiritual life was believed by several nations, as before stated, to make its appearance in the character and shape of a bird -- sometimes a pigeon, sometimes a dove; and thus the origin of this tradition is most clearly and unmistakably exposed.
As the foregoing historical exposition exhibits the Holy Ghost as performing several distinct and discordant offices, so we likewise find it possessing at least two distinct genders, the masculine and neuter, i.e., no gender -- changing, ghost-like, from one to the other, as occasion seemed to require.
From all these metamorphoses it is shown and demonstrated that the sexual and other changes of this "mysterious" being equal many of the demigods of mythology. The primary windy conception of the Holy Ghost is traceable to that early period of society when the rude and untutored denizens of the earth, in their profound ignorance of natural causes, were very easily and naturally led into the belief that wherever there was motion there was a God, or the active manifestation of a God, whether it was in the wind, breath, water, fire, or the sun.
Hence, the Buddhists had their god Vasus, who manifested himself variously in the shape or character of fire, wind, storms, gas, ghosts, gusts, and the breath, thus constituting a very nearly-allied counterpart to the Christian Holy Ghost, which Mr. Parkhurst tells us originally meant "air in motion." This god was believed to have sprung from the supreme, primordial God, which the ancient Brahmins and Buddhists generally believed was constituted of a fine, spiritual substance, -- aura, anima, wind, ether, igneous fluid, or electrical fire, i.e., fire from the sun, giving rise to "baptism by fire;" and hence, the third God, or third member of the Trinity, subsequently arising out of this compound being, was also necessarily composed of or consisted of the same properties -- all of which were believed to be correlated, if not identical.
Such is a complete, though brief, historical elucidation of that mysterious, imaginary being so corporally intangible that Faustus, of the third century, declared respecting it, "The Holy Spirit, the third majesty, has the air for his residence." And it is a fabulous God whose scriptural biography is invested with so many ludicrous and abstruse incidents as to incite several hundred Christian writers to labor hard with a "godly zeal," by a reconstruction of God's Word" and a rehabiliment of the ghostly texts to effect some kind of a reconciliation of the story with reason and common sense -- with what success the reader is left to judge.
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN AGAINST THE HOLY GHOSTBefore dismissing our ghostly narrative, it may effect something in the way of mitigating the anxious fears of some of our Christian brothers and sisters to explain the nature of "the sin against the Holy Ghost," and assign the reason for its being unpardonable. The sin against the Holy Ghost consisted, according to the ancient Mexican traditions, in resisting its operations in the second birth -- that is, the regeneration of the heart or soul by the Holy Ghost. And as the rectification of the heart or soul was a prominent idea with Christ, there is scarcely any ground to doubt but that this was the notion he cherished of the nature of the sin against the Holy Ghost. And it was considered unpardonable, simply because as the pardoning and cleansing process consisted in, or was at least always accompanied with baptism by water, in which operation the Holy Ghost was the agent in effecting a "new birth," therefore, when the ministrations or operations of this indispensable agent were resisted or rejected, there was no channel, no means, no possible mode left for the sinner to find a renewed acceptance with God. When a person sinned against the Father or the Word (the Son), he could find a door of forgiveness through the baptizing processes spiritual or elementary, of the Holy Ghost, But an offense' committed against this third limb of the Godhead had the effect to close and bar the door so that there could be "no forgiveness, either in this life or that which is to come." To sin against the Holy Ghost was to tear down the scaffold by which the door of heaven was to be reached.
And thus it is explained the great "mystery of godliness," the "unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost," which, on account of the frightful penalty annexed to it, while it is impossible to learn what it consists in -- it being undefined and undefinable -- has caused thousands, and probably millions, of the disciples of the Christian faith the most agonizing hours of alarm and despair.
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