A general term, applied to heathen idolaters, who worship false gods, and are not acquainted either with the doctrines of the Old Testament or the Christian dispensation. The worship of the Grand Lama is of the most extensive and splendid character among the Pagan idolaters. This extends all over Thibet and Mongolia, is almost universal in Bucharia and several provinces of Tartary; it has followers in Cashmere, and is the predominant religion of China.

The Grand Lama is a name given to the sovereign pontiff, or high priest, of the Thibetian Tartars, who resides at Patoli, a vast palace on a mountain, near the banks of Burhampooter, about seven miles from Lahassa. The foot of this mountain is inhabited by twenty thousand Lamas, or priests, who have their separate apartments round about the mountain, and, according to their respective quality, are placed nearer or at a greater distance from the sovereign pontiff. He is not only the sovereign pontiff, the vicegerent of the Deity on earth, but the more remote Tartars are said to absolutely regard him as the Deity himself, and call him God, the everlasting Father of heaven. They believe him to be immortal, and endowed with all knowledge and virtue. Every year they come up, from different parts, to worship, and make rich offerings at his shrine. Even the emperor of China, who is a Manchou Tartar, does not fail in acknowledgments to him, in his religious capacity, and actually entertains, at a great expense, in the palace of Pekin, an inferior Lama, deputed as his nuncio from Thibet. The Grand Lama, it has been said, is never to be seen but in a secret place of his palace, amidst a great number of lamps, sitting cross-legged upon a cushion, and decked all over with gold and precious stones; where, at a distance, the people prostrate themselves before him, it being not lawful for any so much as to kiss his feet. He returns not the least sign of respect, nor ever speaks, even to the greatest princes, but only lays his hand upon their heads; and they are fully persuaded they receive from thence a full forgiveness of all their sins.

The magnificence and number of the ancient heathen temples almost exceed calculation or belief. At one time, there were no less than 424 temples in the city of Rome, The temple of Diana, at Ephesus, was accounted one of the seven wonders of the world. It was 425 feet in length, 220 in breadth, and was adorned with 100 columns 60 feet high; and, as each column is said to have contained 150 tons of marble, -- as the stupendous edifice, outside and in, was adorned with gold, and a profusion of ornaments, -- how immense must have been the whole expense of its erection!

At the present day, many of the pagan nations go to immense expense in the support of their religious worship. It is stated, in the Indo-Chinese Gleaner, a paper published by the missionaries in China, that there are, in that empire, 1056 temples dedicated to Confucius, where above 60,000 animals are annually offered. The followers of Confucius form one of the smallest of the three leading sects among the Chinese.

Mr. Ward, a distinguished missionary, was present at the worship of the goddess Doorga, at Calcutta, in 1806. After describing the greatness of the assembly, the profusion of the offerings, and the many strange peculiarities of the worship, he observes, "The whole produced on my mind sensations of the greatest honor. The dress of the singers, their indecent gestures, the abominable nature of the songs, the horrid din of their miserable drum, the lateness of the hour, the darkness of the place, with the reflection that I was standing in an idol temple, and that this immense multitude of rational and immortal creatures, capable of superior joys, were, in the very act of worship, perpetrating a crime of high treason against the God of heaven, while they themselves believed they were performing an act of merit, -- excited ideas and feelings in my mind which time can never obliterate."

The vast empire of China, misnamed the Celestial Empire, is given up to the vilest idolatry. Idols are encountered at every step, not merely in the temples, but in the houses, and even in the vessels, where a part of the forecastle is consecrated to them, as the most honorable place. The idol is dressed and adorned with a splendor proportioned to the wealth of the captain of the vessel, and daily receives an offering, composed of flesh and fruits, together with the smoke of perfumes. Besides this regular service, the captain makes a solemn sacrifice to his wooden deity, on all important occasions; as, for instance, in passing from one river into another, or in time of tempest, or when the sails flap idly in a calm. The Chinese have likewise a practice of deifying their dead ancestors, and of prostrating themselves before the monumental tablets which are erected to their memory. Yet they appear to have no real veneration for any of their idols; nor do they hesitate to profane the temples, by smoking their pipes, and taking refreshments, and even by gambling, within the consecrated precincts. The priests are shameless impostors. They practise the mountebank sciences of astrology, divination, necromancy, and animal magnetism, and keep for sale a liquid, which, they pretend, will confer immortality on those who drink it.

Tortures of various kinds, burning, and burying alive, are considered religious duties among the pagans.

The festival of Juggernaut is annually held on the sea-coast of Orissa, where there is a celebrated temple, and an idol of the god. The idol is a carved block of wood, with a frightful visage, painted black, and a distended mouth of a bloody color. He is dressed in gorgeous apparel, and his appellation is one of the numerous names of Vishnu, the preserving power of the universe, according to the theology of the Bramins. On festival days, the throne of the idol is placed upon a stupendous movable tower, about sixty feet in height, resting on wheels, which indent the ground deeply, as they turn slowly under the ponderous machine. He is accompanied by two other idols, his brother Balaram, and his sister Shubudra, of a white and yellow color, each on a separate tower, and sitting on thrones of nearly an equal height. Attached to the principal tower are six ropes, of the length and size of a ship's cable, by which the people draw it along. The priests and attendants are stationed around the throne, on the car, and occasionally address the worshippers in libidinous songs and gestures. Both the walls of the temple and sides of the car are covered with the most indecent emblems, in large and durable sculpture. Obscenity and blood are the characteristics of the idol's worship. As the tower moves along, devotees, throwing themselves under the wheels, are crushed to death; and such acts are hailed with the acclamations of the multitude, as the most acceptable sacrifices. A body of prostitutes are maintained in the temple, for the use of the worshippers; and various other systematic indecencies, which will not admit of description, form a part of the service. A number of sacred bulls are kept in the place, which are generally fed with vegetables from the hands of the pilgrims, but, from the scarcity of the vegetation, are commonly seen walking about, and eating the fresh ordure of the worshipping crowds. In the temple, also, is preserved a bone of Krishna, which is considered as a most venerable and precious relic, and which few persons are allowed to see.

The following is an account of the burning of a Gentoo woman, on the funeral pile of her deceased husband: -- "We found," says M. Stavorinus, "the body of the deceased lying upon a couch, covered with a piece of white cotton, and strewed with betel leaves. The woman, who was to be the victim, sat upon the couch, with her face turned to that of the deceased. She was richly adorned, and held a little green branch in her right hand, with which she drove away the flies from the body. She seemed like one buried in the most profound meditation, yet betrayed no signs of fear. Many of her relations attended upon her, who, at stated intervals, struck up various kinds of music.

"The pile was made by driving green bamboo stakes into the earth, between which was first laid fire-wood, very dry and combustible; upon this was put a quantity of dry straw, or reeds, besmeared with grease: this was done alternately, till the pile was five feet in height; and the whole was then strewed with rosin, finely powdered. A white cotton sheet, which had been washed in the Ganges, was then spread over the pile, and the whole was ready for the reception of the victim.

"The widow was now admonished, by a priest, that it was time to begin the rites. She was then surrounded by women, who offered her betel, and besought her to supplicate favors for them when she joined her husband in the presence of Ram, or their highest god, and, above all, that she would salute their deceased friends whom she might meet in the celestial mansions.

"In the mean time, the body of the husband was taken and washed in the river. The woman was also led to the Ganges for ablution, where she divested herself of all her ornaments. Her head was covered with a piece of silk, and a cloth was tied round her body, in which the priests put some parched rice.

"She then took a farewell of her friends, and was conducted by two of her female relations to the pile. When she came to it, she scattered flowers and parched rice upon the spectators, and put some into the mouth of the corpse. Two priests next led her three times round it, while she threw rice among the bystanders, who gathered it up with great eagerness. The last time she went round, she placed a little earthen burning lamp to each of the four corners of the pile, then laid herself down on the right side, next to the body, which she embraced with both her arms; a piece of white cotton was spread over them both; they were bound together with two easy bandages, and a quantity of fire-wood, straw, and rosin, was laid upon them. In the last place, her nearest relations, to whom, on the banks of the river, she had given her nose-jewels, came with a burning torch, and set the straw on fire, and in a moment the whole was in a flame. The noise of the drums, and the shouts of the spectators, were such that the shrieks of the unfortunate woman, if she uttered any, could not have been heard."

Instances are related of women eighty years of age, or upwards, perishing in this manner. One case is mentioned, by Mr. Ward, of a Bramin who had married upwards of a hundred wives, thirty-seven of whom were burnt with him. The pile was kept burning for three days, and when one or more of them arrived, they threw themselves into the blazing fire.

The Pagans worship an immense variety of idols, both animate and inanimate, and very frequently make to themselves gods of objects that are contemptible even among brutes. In Hindoo, the monkey is a celebrated god. A few years since, the rajah of Nudeeya expended [USD]50,000 in celebrating the marriage of a pair of those mischievous creatures, with all the parade and solemnity of a Hindoo wedding.

A Bramin of superior understanding gave Mr. Ward the following confession of faith, as the present belief of the philosophical Hindoos, concerning the nature of God, viz.: -- "God is invisible, independent, ever-living, glorious, uncorrupt, all-wise, the ever-blessed, the almighty; his perfections are indescribable and past finding out; he rules over all, supports all, destroys all, and remains after the destruction of all; there is none like him; he is silence; he is free from passion, from birth, &c., and from increase and decrease, from fatigue, the need of refreshment, &c. He possesses the power of infinite diminution and lightness, and is the soul of all.

"He created, and then entered into, all things, in which he exists in two ways, untouched by matter, and receiving the fruits of practice. He now assumes visible forms for the sake of engaging the minds of mankind. The different gods are parts of God, though his essence remains undiminished, as rays of light leave the sun his undiminished splendor. He created the gods to perform those things in the government of the world, of which man was incapable. Some gods are parts of other gods, and there are deities of still inferior powers. If it be asked why God himself does not govern the world, the answer is, that it might subject him to exposure, and he chooses to be concealed: he therefore governs by the gods, who are emanations from the one God, possessing a portion of his power: he who worships the gods as the one God, substantially worships God. The gods are helpful to men in all human affairs, but they are not friendly to those who seek final absorption, being jealous lest, instead of attaining absorption, they should become gods, and rival them.

"Religious ceremonies procure a fund of merit to the performer, which raises him in every future birth, and at length advances him to heaven, where he enjoys happiness for a limited period, or carries him towards final absorption. A person may sink to earth again by crimes committed in heaven. The joys of heaven arise only from the gratification of the senses. A person raised to heaven is considered as a god.

"When the following lines of Pope were read to a learned Bramin, he started from his seat, begged a copy of them, and declared the author must have been a Hindoo: --

"All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul; ...
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees,
Lives through all life, extends through all extent, Spreads undivided, operates unspent."

"Such are the best views of the best of men among the Hindoos. Such a mixture of truth and error, of sense and folly, do they believe and teach."

According to the best accounts that can be obtained from missionaries and others, the number of Pagans, in different countries, exceeds half the population of the globe.

Considerable attempts have been made, of late years, for the enlightening of the heathen; and there is every reason to believe good has been done. From the aspect of Scripture prophecy, we are led to expect that the kingdoms of the heathen at large shall be brought to the light of the gospel. (Matt.24:14, Isa.60, Ps.22:28, 29; 2:7, 8.) It has been much disputed whether it be possible that the heathen should be saved without the knowledge of the gospel; some have absolutely denied it, upon the authority of those texts which universally require faith in Christ; but to this it is answered, that those texts regard only such to whom the gospel comes, and are capable of understanding the contents of it. "The truth," says Dr. Doddridge, "seems to be this -- that none of the heathen will be condemned for not believing the gospel, but they are liable to condemnation for the breach of God's natural law: nevertheless, if there be any of them in whom there is a prevailing love to the Divine Being, there seems reason to believe that, for the sake of Christ, though to them unknown, they may be accepted by God; and so much the rather, as the ancient Jews, and even the apostles, during the time of our Savior's abode on earth, seem to have had but little notion of those doctrines, which those who deny the salvability of the heathen are most apt to imagine." (Rom.2:10-22, Acts 10:34, 35. Matt.8:11, 12.) Grove, Watts, Saurin, and the immortal Newton, favor the same opinion; the latter of whom thus observes: "If we suppose a heathen brought to a sense of his misery; to a conviction that he cannot be happy without the favor of the great Lord of the world; to a feeling of guilt, and desire of mercy; and that, though he has no explicit knowledge of a Savior, he directs the cry of his heart to the unknown Supreme, to have mercy upon him, -- who will prove that such views and desires can arise in the heart of a sinner, without the energy of that Spirit which Jesus is exalted to bestow? Who will take upon him to say that his blood has not sufficient efficacy to redeem to God a sinner who is thus disposed, though he have never heard of his name? Or who has a warrant to affirm that the supposition I have made is in the nature of things impossible to be realized?"

"That there exist beings, one or many, powerful above the human race, is a proposition," says Lord Kaimes, "universally admitted as true in all ages and among all nations. I boldly call it universal, notwithstanding what is reported of some gross savages; for reports that contradict what is acknowledged to be general among men, require able vouchers. Among many savage tribes there are no words but for objects of external sense: is it surprising that such people are incapable of expressing their religious perceptions, or any perception of internal sense? The conviction that men have of superior powers, in every country where there are words to express it, is so well vouched, that, in fair reasoning, it ought to be taken for granted among the few tribes where language is deficient." The same ingenious author shows, with great strength of reasoning, that the operations of nature and the government of this world, which to us loudly proclaim the existence of a Deity, are not sufficient to account for the universal belief of superior beings among savage tribes. He is, therefore, of opinion that this universality of conviction can spring only from the image of Deity stamped upon the mind of every human being, the ignorant equally with the learned. This, he thinks, may be termed the sense of Deity.

Top of Page
Top of Page