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At marriages, while the young persons present held torches in their hands and sang the marriage song, the bride walked three times round the bridegroom, and he in turn walked thrice round her. In some countries—Germany and Holland, for instance—the guests threw handfuls of corn at the young wedded pair, telling them to "increase and multiply. At the wedding repast a roasted hen and an egg were presented to the bride, who, after partaking of them, distributed the remainder to the guests.

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The hen had reference to the fruitfulness of the bride, and her delivery in childbirth. The thumbs of a dead Jew were tied down close to the palms of his hands, to preserve the deceased from the devil's clutches. While the body was being washed, an [Pg 8] egg was put into a glass of wine, and the deceased's head anointed with the mixture.

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Those who were not reconciled to the departed, before his death, kissed his great toe and asked pardon, lest he should accuse them at the great tribunal before the Most High. When the body was carried away for interment, a person, who remained behind, threw a brick after it, as a sign that all sorrow was past. The nearest friends or relations walked seven times round the grave, after each of them had driven a nail into the coffin. Hence the saying in our own time, when one signifies his willingness to do a friend a favour or kindness, "I will drive a nail into your coffin.

On important occasions the Hebrews, like Pagans, consulted diviners, who had recourse to various ways of divination. In the days of Joseph there was divination by cups, one particular manner of proceeding being to observe how their wine sparkled when poured out. Casting or drawing of lots was a favourite method of divination, not only among the Jews, but among all nations.

Mention is made of divination by means of household gods or images in human shape, prepared by astrologers under particular constellations, and made capable of the heavenly influences. The rabbis, in making some of these images, killed a man who was a first-born son, wrung off his head, seasoned it with salt, spices, etc.

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The images were consulted as oracles concerning things accomplished but unknown, and regarding events in the future. Among the Jews there were observers of times who laid great stress on certain seasons and critical moments, which they supposed depended on particular positions of the heavenly bodies. A learned rabbi expressed the [Pg 9] opinion that the celestial bodies rewarded persons who put confidence in them, and that consequently men acted wisely to reverence the stars and implore their assistance.

Guesses at futurities were made from the falling of a crumb of bread out of one's mouth or a staff from a man's hand, from a person sneezing, or the breaking of a shoe-latchet. The Hebrew witches were supposed to possess the power of doing mischief to man and beast by their occult science, and of changing the form of things. Witches used their wicked skill to allure maidens. Through magical operations, a Jew endeavoured long ago to procure the love of a Christian woman, but she was preserved from the power of his craft by sealing herself with the sign of the cross.

It was an ancient way of enchantment, to bring, by the power of magic, various kinds of beasts together into one place, which were designated as the "great congregation" and the "little congregation. Wizards were famous fortune tellers; they pretended to be the interpreters of all the most important occurrences of the world. According to the Hebrew laws, the deceivers, and those who consulted them, were liable to be stoned. Necromancers obtained a footing among the Jews.

Such wicked people were accustomed to fast, go to burying-places, and there lie down, fall asleep, and pretend that the dead appeared to them in dreams or otherwise, and told them what was desired. They also pretended to call up the dead by means of certain fumes and particular words. In cases where the spirits of dead men were obstinate and refused to appear or answer when summoned in the more simple form, recourse was had to the burning of portions of black cats, or the still more cruel method of cutting up young boys and virgins. Every person who has read the Old Testament, knows that the Hebrews had among them extraordinary men really endowed with prophetic spirits.

The Jews were forbidden to consult the oracles of the heathen nations round about them, but they were permitted to consult their own true prophets concerning that which was concealed from ordinary persons. There was a constant succession of prophets, and there were schools where young persons aspiring to the office of a seer were instructed. Over each of these institutions a venerable prophet presided.

At first the scholars were not inspired, but received prophecies from the mouth of their master or president. At Jerusalem there was one of these schools within the second wall of the city. So great respect was paid to the prophetic character, that none were suffered to be buried in Jerusalem but kings, descendants of David, and prophets.

Though old prophets could not inspire their young students, they improved their natural faculties, and taught them how to subdue irregular emotions that hindered inspiration. That the minds of the prophets might be the better disposed to receive the proper impulses, instrumental music was used in their devotions; and it is reported that at certain of [Pg 11] their musical meetings the young men became so elated, that they manifested poetical genius as well as a prophetic spirit.

When a young prophet gave unequivocal evidence of being inspired, he was installed into office by having the prophetic mantle made of lamb's skin thrown over his shoulders. Subsequent to inauguration, a prophet wore hair-cloth next his skin, and had a leather girdle round his loins. The general way through which revelations were made to them was in dreams and visions, or by immediate inspiration. Their dreams were sometimes, indeed generally, sent for instruction or admonition; and in the prophetic dreams a clear and distinct impression was left through a real or imaginary communication with an apparition.

At times the prophets had overpowering visions when awake, during which mighty revelations were made to them. When prophetic revelations ceased, the Jews had recourse to Bath Kol, that is, the Daughter of Voice, or the Daughter of a Voice, because it succeeded, they say, the Oracular Voice delivered from the Mercy Seat when Urim and Thummim was consulted.

The prophetic spirit being so common among the Hebrews, it became necessary to adopt a method to prevent false prophets from deceiving the people. To deter men from pretending they possessed a prophetic spirit, a severe punishment for every such pretence was appointed,—strangling or stoning to death. The manner of trying a false prophet was this: the judgments threatened by a prophet, and the good things predicted by him, were observed.

If the judgments declared were not fulfilled, it was not regarded as conclusive evidence against him, because it might be that the punishments were for some wise reason averted; but if the promised good did not come to pass, the predictor was condemned as a deceiver and false prophet. If the words of a prophet were fulfilled in one or more particulars, but not in all, he was not deemed [Pg 12] worthy of credence.

When once one was condemned as a false prophet, no interest was powerful enough to save him from death. The trial of prophets prescribed by the Mosaic law was intended to prevent impostors pretending to be prophets, and to save the people from being enticed by wicked deceivers into idolatry. In the time of Moses there were many who had recourse to diabolical arts. The oblation of children to Moloch being frequently mentioned, together with other diabolical and divinatory arts, reasons appear for supposing there was something magical in such superstitious rites, and that thereby people consulted demons about things future or secret.

Moloch was the principal idol of the Ammonites, but other nations took the same idol for their chief god; for it appears from Pagan records, that the different nations were so very accommodating with their gods that they lent them to one another. Moloch seems to have been the same as Baal, both names signifying dominion, or more particularly the sun, the prince of the heavenly bodies. There can be no doubt but the passage in the Old Testament, "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk," was a warning to the Hebrews not to follow the example of the heathen in connection with the payment by the latter of their first fruits.

Cudworth, writing on this subject, says that he learned from the comments of an ancient Karaite upon the Pentateuch, that a superstitious rite prevailed among the ancient idolators, of seething a kid in his mother's milk when they had gathered in all their first fruits, and sprinkling the trees and fields with the broth, after a magical manner, to make them more fruitful in the following year.

Spencer also observes that the Zabii used this kind of magical broth to sprinkle their trees and gardens, in hope of obtaining a plentiful crop. The smooth stones mentioned by Isaiah, to which meat [Pg 13] offerings were offered and drink offerings poured out, were anointed stones in the streets, on which passengers poured on them oil from phials; but what advantages were to result from the custom we are not fully informed. Oil and candles were believed by the ancients to possess peculiar virtues.

Oil was often burned in honour of the dead; and the Algerines, when on the water, tied bundles of wax candles together, and, with a pot of oil, threw them overboard as a present to the saint, entombed near the Barbary shore, whom they regarded as their protector. We believe few who partake of sheep-head or sheep-head broth know that it is, or was, a custom with the Jews to serve up sheep-head on New Year's Day at their chief entertainment, as a mystical representation of the ram offered in sacrifice instead of Isaac.

When a family or company sat down to this repast, each person took a piece of bread, and, dipping it in honey, said, "May this year be sweet and fruitful. It was customary among the Pharisees not only to fast twice a week on Monday and Thursday , but at periods of perplexity to fast thirteen days consecutively. Sometimes, on account of such small trifles as dreams, they would abstain from food; but severe drought, pestilence, famine, war, and inundations were sure to make them fast until nature was nearly exhausted. The Hebrews held certain views and followed particular customs with respect to the dust of heathen countries.

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Dust that came from Gentile lands was reckoned so defiling, that the Jewish rulers would not permit vegetables to be brought from heathen countries into the land of Israel, lest the detested particles should be brought along with them. The number 10 was much noticed and used by the Jews. The blessing [Pg 14] of the bridegroom, which consisted of seven blessings, was of no avail unless delivered in the presence of ten persons. Angels, which were believed to have the care of men, were supposed to ride unseen, on white horses, beside the objects of their attention.

Among the Jews there was a popular notion that the spirits of dead persons whispered in a feeble and peculiar way out of the dust; and it was a common belief that the soul had no rest unless the body was interred. There were women among the Hebrews who predicted how long one would live, and pretended to know when he was to die.

One of a Jew's solemn prayers on the day of expiation was that he might be delivered from the punishment of the devil in his grave,—a punishment supposed to be inflicted by causing the soul to return to the body, breaking the deceased's bones, and tormenting both soul and body for a season. A similar form of prayer was used by the Mohammedans.


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Egypt was a country steeped in superstition. The people believed in sorcery, magic, and enchantments; and there is the fullest evidence in the sacred pages that the Egyptian magicians were able to perform dexterous feats that were truly surprising. Astronomy was studied with a view to success in astrology, as the latter was a science much esteemed, and very lucrative.

Public or state astrologers were consulted in cases of emergencies. None [Pg 15] dared to practise astrology, magic, sorcery, or any of the various modes of divination unless authorised by a master in the art, before whom he had "spread the carpet" for prayer. To procure sublime visions, seers shut themselves up for a long time, without food or water, in a dark place, and prayed aloud until they fainted.

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While in a swoon, strange visions appeared to them, and revelations made which sometimes filled the nation with gladness, and at other times spread mourning over the country. In advanced ages, as well as in early times, men believed there were a multitude of subordinate spirits, as ministers, to execute the behests of the supreme sovereign. To these spirits were committed the superintendence of all the different parts of nature, and their bodies were imagined to be composed of that particular element in which they resided.

Altars were built in the midst of groves, where the spirits were supposed to assemble. Gratitude and admiration tended to the deification of departed heroes and other eminent persons. This probably gave rise to the belief of national and tutelar gods, as well as the practice of worshipping gods through the medium of statues cut into human form.

At one time demi-gods gradually rose in the scale of divinities until they occupied the places of the heavenly bodies.

Thus, following ancient hyperbole, a king, for his beneficence, was called the sun, and a queen, for her beauty, was styled the moon. As this adulation advanced into an established worship, the compliment was reversed by calling planets or luminaries after heroes.

And to render the subject more reconcilable to reason, the Eastern priests taught that the early founders of states and inventors of arts were divine intelligences, clothed with human bodies. When celestial divinities disappeared or were obscured from observation, men had recourse to symbols of a temporary nature that produced fire. Altars of stone were built and consecrated in the name of the [Pg 16] divinity whom it was intended to represent. Such altars were called animated or living stones, from a belief that a portion of divine spirit resided in them, and the prayers and praises offered up before them were thought to be as acceptable as if addressed to the gods themselves.