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where their descendants, under the name of Parsees, still form an industrious and useful body of men. A few of them are even to be found now in some parts of Persia ; but they are despised and hated by the modern Persians, and altogether they lead but a miserable life in their ancient and proper country.
H. After all, isn't it very silly of them to worship fire ?
U. O. It is, certainly. We must not, however, think them more foolish than they really are. I am not sure we understand this religion very well; but I do not think it teaches that fire is God, or is to be worshipped as God; but only that it is a symbol of God's presence in the world, and for that reason is to be honoured and respected. I am afraid, however, that many of the people of this religion looked at the sun and at the fire, before which they worshipped, till they ceased to see God,-paying to the sun itself and to the fire, that honour which was due to Him only, and which was at first intended for Him.
Mr. Dillon. I am glad of this opportunity of asking you, Mr. Oldcastle, whether there are now no traces of this ancient religion in the present institutions and practices of the country?
U. 0. The Mohammedans as usual did their best to root out every thing that seemed connected with the ancient idolatry. Yet it seemed to me that the modern Persians have among them many more traces of their old religion than they would be willing to acknowledge. You know that the sun was the great object of honour to the ancient Persians, and to this day there is, perhaps, no country in which the sun is so much honoured as in Persia. I will give you an instance or two;—not the best, perhaps, but the only ones that I recollect at this moment. One is, that the Lion and Sun—that is, the figure of the sun rising over the back of a lion-forms still the ensign of the nation, being borne upon its colours, stamped upon its coins, and painted on its buildings. In many coins the lion is left out, and the sun alone is placed. It is still more remarkable that when the late king first founded an order of knighthood, in order to bestow it as a mark of his regard upon some of the gentlemen of the French embassy, sent by Bonaparte, he called it the Order of the Sun; and the present Order of the Lion and Sun was only created when he found that the English ambassadors, who afterwards came to Persia, were not willing to accept a distinction which had been created in honour of the French, with whom we were then at war.
But the most striking of all the remains of the ancient religion, is the yearly feast called the Nurooz; which means the new-day. This feast was established in very ancient times by the fire-worshippers of Persia, and was their principal festival. It was held when the sun entered the constellation of the Ram, in the month of March, for that was considered the commencement of the Spring, and this was the new year's day of the ancient Persians.
H. Is it not now?
U. O. No: and that makes it the more remarkable that they should keep the feast, although they have not only changed their religion, but their calendar also ; but they not only do keep it, but it is the principal feast to them as it was to their ancestors; and it is not observed by any other nation in the world. This ancient feast has, in fact, triumphed over the feeling which made them wish to outroot every thing belonging to the old religion.
Mr. D. But do they now observe it in exactly the same way that their forefathers did ?
U. O. Not exactly : for as it was intended to celebrate, at the commencement of the spring, the benefits which the sun confers upon the earth, there were some idolatrous ceremonies connected with it, which, of course, their Mohammedan descendants have left out. The modern Persians, indeed, are ashamed to acknowledge that they keep a feast of their infidel fathers; and therefore to excuse themselves, pretend that the creation of the world began that day, and that their favourite saint, Ali, the son-in-law of Mahomet, on that day became chief (caliph) of the Arabians. This, however, deceives nobody but themselves; and the stricter sects of Mohammedans bitterly reproach them for keeping up the observance of an idolatrous festival.
F. Do you also think them wrong in that, Sir?
U. O. By no means. Allowing the change from the old religion to the new, to be a change for the better, as it certainly was, I think they were quite in the right to retain this feast, after they had deprived it of every thing that was offensive to their new opinions. Indeed, I am most willing that in the changes of opinions and customs which are continually going on in the world, all that is beautiful, and all that makes men more cheerfully happy, and more kind to one another, should remain fixed things, -so that every age that went before should leave an inheritance of pleasant things to the ages that come after.
Mr. D. I rejoice to hear that from you, Mr. Oldcastle.
U. O. I rejoice to say it, Mr. Dillon. But let us return to the Nurooz. Among the fireworshippers in early times, the return of this day threw a general joy over the nation. The rich sent presents to the poor: all classes dressed themselves in their holiday clothes; and a large number of persons in all ranks kept open house. While the feast lasted, the days were enlivened by religious processions, music, dancing, a kind of theatrical entertainments, and various manly exercises and rural sports. In the general joy even the dead, and the beings of their own fancy, were not neglected ; for the good-natured people placed rich messes from their tables upon towers and house-tops, that the spirits of their departed friends, and the good and fair beings whom they call Peris, (and which re