Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

II. Sons of the Widow

111. Origin of Religion of Love.—A Persian slave, whose powerful imagination brought forth a doctrine desolating, but extraordinary by originality of invention and variety of episodes, three centuries after the appearance of Christ, and when Orientalism was on the point of disappearing from the West, founded a theogony and instituted a sect which revived Eastern influence in Europe, and by means of the Crusades spread schism and revolt throughout the Catholic worid. The action of this rebellious disciple of Zoroaster, of this restorer of the ancient faith of the Magi, mixed with Christian forms and Gnostic symbols, had an extension and duration which, though called in doubt by the past, modern criticism discovers in the intrinsic philosophy of a great part of the sects formed in the bosom of Catholicism. At the head of this gigantic movement of intelligence and conscience, which devoted itself to the most singular superstitions in order to shake off the yoke of Rome, are Gnosticism and Manichasism, Oriental sects, the last and glorious advance of a theogony which, seeing the rule of so large a portion of the earth pass away from itself, undertook to recover it with mysteries and the evocation of poetic phantoms.

112. Manes.—Manes, redeemed from slavery by a rich Persian widow, whence he was called the "son of the widow," and his disciples "sons of the widow," of prepossessing aspect, learned in the Alexandrian philosophy, initiated into the Mithraic mysteries, traversed the regions of India, touched on the confines of China, studied the evangelical doctrines, and so lived in the midst of many religious systems, deriving light from all, and satisfied by none. He was born at a propitious moment, and his temperament fitted him for arduous and fantastic undertakings and schemes. Possessing great penetration and an inflexible will, he comprehended the expansive force of Christianity, and resolved to profit thereby, masking Gnostic and Cabbalistic ideas under Christian names and rites. In order to establish this Christian revelation, he called himself the Paraclete announced by Christ to His disciples, attributing to himself, in the Gnostic manner, a great superiority over the Apostles, rejecting the Old Testament, and allowing to the sages of the pagans a philosophy superior to Judaism. A.D. 270.

113. Manichceism.—The dismal conceptions of a dualism, pure and simple, the eternity and absolute evil of matter, the non-resurrection of the body, the perpetuity of the principle of evil—these preside over the compound that took its name from him, and confound Mithras with Christ, the Gospel with the Zend-Avesta, Magism with Judaism. The Unknown Father, the Infinite Being, of Zoroaster, is entirely rejected by Manes, who divides the universe into two dominions, that of light and that of darkness, irreconcilable, whereof one is superior to the other; but, great difference the first, instead of conquering the latter into goodness, reduces it to impotence, conquers, but does not suppress or convince it. The God of light has innumerable legions of combatants (aeons), at whose head are twelve superior angels, corresponding with the twelve signs of the zodiac. Satanic matter is surrounded by a similar host, which, having been captivated by the charms of the light, endeavours to conquer it; wherefore the head of the celestial kingdom, in order to obviate this danger, infuses life into a new power, and appoints it to watch the frontiers of heaven. That power is called the "Mother of Life," and is the soul of the world, the "Divine," the primitive thought of the Supreme Ens, the heavenly "Sophia" of the Gnostics. As a direct emanation of the Eternal it is too pure to unite with matter, but a son is born unto it, the first man, who initiates the great struggle with the demons. When the strength of the man fails him, the "Living Spirit" comes to his assistance, and having led him back to the kingdom of light, raises above the world that part of the celestial soul not contaminated by contact with the demons—a perfectly pure soul, the Redeemer, the Christ, who attracts to Himself and frees from matter the light and soul of the first man.

In these abstruse doctrines lies concealed the Mithraic worship of the sun. The followers of Manes were divided into "Elect" and "Listeners"; the former had to renounce every corporeal enjoyment, everything that can darken the celestial light in us; the second were less rigorously treated. Both might attain immortality by means of purification in an ample lake placed in the moon (the baptism of celestial water), and sanctification in the solar fire (the baptism of celestial fire), where reside the Redeemer and the blessed spirits.

114. Life of Manes.—The career of Manes was chequered and stormy, a foreshadowing of the tempests that were to arise against his sect. After having enjoyed the unstable favour of the court, and acquired the fame of a great physician, he found himself unable to save the life of one of the sons of the prince. He was consequently exiled, and roved through Turkistan, Hindostan, and the Chinese Empire. He dwelt for one year in a cave, living on herbs, during which time his followers, having received no news from him, said that he had ascended to heaven, and were believed, not only by the "Listeners," but by the people. The new prince recalled him to court, showered honours on him, erected a sumptuous palace for him, and consulted him on all state affairs. But Barahm, the successor of this prince, at the instigation of the Magi, made him pay dearly for his short happiness, for he put him to a cruel death: he had him flayed alive.

115. Progress of Manichaeism.—The government of the sect, already existing with degrees, initiatory rites, signs, and passwords, was continued by astute chiefs, who more and more attracted to themselves the Christians by the use of orthodox language, making them believe that their object was to recall Christianity to its first purity. But the sect was odious to the Church of Rome, because it had issued from rival Persia; and so for two hundred years it was banished from the empire, and the Theodosian Codex is full of laws against it. Towards the end of the fourth century it spread in Africa and Spain. It had peace, and flourished under the mother of the Emperor Anastasius (491-518); but Justin renewed the persecution. In the ninth century that female fiend, Theodora, the wife of the Emperor Theophilus, caused more than one hundred thousand Manichasans to be slain. But changing its name, seat, and figurative language, Manichaeism spread in Bulgaria, Lombardy (Patarini), France (Cathari, Albigenses), etc., united with the Saracens, and openly made war upon the Emperor, and its followers perished by thousands in battle and at the stake; and from its secular trunk sprang the so-called heresies of the Hussites and Wyckliffites, which opened the way for Protestantism.

In those gloomy Middle Ages, in fact, arose those countless legions of sectaries, bound by a common pact, whose existence only then becomes manifest when the sinister light of the burning pile flashes through the darkness in which they conceal themselves. The Freemasons undoubtedly, through the Templars, inherited no small portion of their ritual from them; they were very numerous in all the courts, and even in the dome of St. Peter, and baptized in blood with new denominations and ordinances.

116. Doctrines.—The sacred language of Manichaeism was most glowing, and founded on that concert of voices and ideas, called in Pythagorean phraseology the "harmony of the spheres," which established a connection between the mystic degrees and the figured spheres by means of conventional terms and images; and it is known that the Albigenses and Patarini recognised each other by signs. A Provencal Patarino, who had fled to Italy in 1240, everywhere met with a friendly reception, revealing himself to the brethren by means of conventional phrases. He everywhere found the sect admirably organised, with churches, bishops, and apostles of the most active propaganda, who overran France, Germany, and England. The Manichaean language, moreover, was ascetic, and loving, and Christian; but the neophyte, after having once entered the sect, was carried beyond, and gradually alienated from the Papal Church.

The mysteries had two chief objects in view—that of leading the neophyte, by first insensibly changing his former opinions and dispositions, and then of gradually instructing him in the conventional language, which, being complicated and varied, required much study and much time. But not all were admitted to the highest degrees. Those that turned back, or could not renounce former ideas, remained always in the Church, and were not introduced into the sanctuary. These were simple Christians and sincere listeners, who, put of zeal for reform, often encountered death, as, for instance, the canons of Orleans, who were condemned to the stake by King Robert in 1022. But those who did not turn back were initiated into all those things which it was important should be known to the most faithful members of the sect. The destruction of Rome, and the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem spoken of in the Apocalypse, were the chief objects aimed at.

117. Spread of Religion of Love.—The religion of love did not end with the massacre of the Albigenses, nor were its last echoes the songs of the troubadours; for we meet with it in a German sect which in 1550 pretended to receive a supernatural light from the Holy Spirit. In Holland, also, a sect of Christians arose in 1555, called the "Family of Love," and deriving its origin from one Henry Nicholas, of Westphalia. He taught that the essence of religion consisted in the feelings of Divine love; that the union of the soul with Christ transforms it into the essence of the Deity; that the Scriptures ought to be interpreted in an allegorical manner. No very damnable heresies, one would think; but when the sect made its appearance in England, about the year 1580, their books were publicly burnt, and the sect dispersed.