Heroes and Hero Worship
by Carlyle

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Surely it seems a very strange-looking thing this Paganism; almost
inconceivable to us in these days. A bewildering, inextricable jungle of
delusions, confusions, falsehoods, and absurdities, covering the whole
field of Life! A thing that fills us with astonishment, almost, if it were
possible, with incredulity,--for truly it is not easy to understand that
sane men could ever calmly, with their eyes open, believe and live by such
a set of doctrines. That men should have worshipped their poor fellow-man
as a God, and not him only, but stocks and stones, and all manner of
animate and inanimate objects; and fashioned for themselves such a
distracted chaos of hallucinations by way of Theory of the Universe: all
this looks like an incredible fable. Nevertheless it is a clear fact that
they did it. Such hideous inextricable jungle of misworships, misbeliefs,
men, made as we are, did actually hold by, and live at home in. This is
strange. Yes, we may pause in sorrow and silence over the depths of
darkness that are in man; if we rejoice in the heights of purer vision he
has attained to. Such things were and are in man; in all men; in us too.

Some speculators have a short way of accounting for the Pagan religion:
mere quackery, priestcraft, and dupery, say they; no sane man ever did
believe it,--merely contrived to persuade other men, not worthy of the name
of sane, to believe it! It will be often our duty to protest against this
sort of hypothesis about men's doings and history; and I here, on the very
threshold, protest against it in reference to Paganism, and to all other
_isms_ by which man has ever for a length of time striven to walk in this
world. They have all had a truth in them, or men would not have taken them
up. Quackery and dupery do abound; in religions, above all in the more
advanced decaying stages of religions, they have fearfully abounded: but
quackery was never the originating influence in such things; it was not the
health and life of such things, but their disease, the sure precursor of
their being about to die! Let us never forget this. It seems to me a most
mournful hypothesis, that of quackery giving birth to any faith even in
savage men. Quackery gives birth to nothing; gives death to all things.
We shall not see into the true heart of anything, if we look merely at the
quackeries of it; if we do not reject the quackeries altogether; as mere
diseases, corruptions, with which our and all men's sole duty is to have
done with them, to sweep them out of our thoughts as out of our practice.
Man everywhere is the born enemy of lies. I find Grand Lamaism itself to
have a kind of truth in it. Read the candid, clear-sighted, rather
sceptical Mr. Turner's _Account of his Embassy_ to that country, and see.
They have their belief, these poor Thibet people, that Providence sends
down always an Incarnation of Himself into every generation. At bottom
some belief in a kind of Pope! At bottom still better, belief that there
is a _Greatest_ Man; that _he_ is discoverable; that, once discovered, we
ought to treat him with an obedience which knows no bounds! This is the
truth of Grand Lamaism; the "discoverability" is the only error here. The
Thibet priests have methods of their own of discovering what Man is
Greatest, fit to be supreme over them. Bad methods: but are they so much
worse than our methods,--of understanding him to be always the eldest-born
of a certain genealogy? Alas, it is a difficult thing to find good methods
for!--We shall begin to have a chance of understanding Paganism, when we
first admit that to its followers it was, at one time, earnestly true. Let
us consider it very certain that men did believe in Paganism; men with open
eyes, sound senses, men made altogether like ourselves; that we, had we
been there, should have believed in it. Ask now, What Paganism could have
been?

Another theory, somewhat more respectable, attributes such things to
Allegory. It was a play of poetic minds, say these theorists; a shadowing
forth, in allegorical fable, in personification and visual form, of what
such poetic minds had known and felt of this Universe. Which agrees, add
they, with a primary law of human nature, still everywhere observably at
work, though in less important things, That what a man feels intensely, he
struggles to speak out of him, to see represented before him in visual
shape, and as if with a kind of life and historical reality in it. Now
doubtless there is such a law, and it is one of the deepest in human
nature; neither need we doubt that it did operate fundamentally in this
business. The hypothesis which ascribes Paganism wholly or mostly to this
agency, I call a little more respectable; but I cannot yet call it the true
hypothesis. Think, would _we_ believe, and take with us as our
life-guidance, an allegory, a poetic sport? Not sport but earnest is what
we should require. It is a most earnest thing to be alive in this world;
to die is not sport for a man. Man's life never was a sport to him; it was
a stern reality, altogether a serious matter to be alive!

I find, therefore, that though these Allegory theorists are on the way
towards truth in this matter, they have not reached it either. Pagan
Religion is indeed an Allegory, a Symbol of what men felt and knew about
the Universe; and all Religions are symbols of that, altering always as
that alters: but it seems to me a radical perversion, and even inversion,
of the business, to put that forward as the origin and moving cause, when
it was rather the result and termination. To get beautiful allegories, a
perfect poetic symbol, was not the want of men; but to know what they were
to believe about this Universe, what course they were to steer in it; what,
in this mysterious Life of theirs, they had to hope and to fear, to do and
to forbear doing. The _Pilgrim's Progress_ is an Allegory, and a
beautiful, just and serious one: but consider whether Bunyan's Allegory
could have _preceded_ the Faith it symbolizes! The Faith had to be already
there, standing believed by everybody;--of which the Allegory could _then_
become a shadow; and, with all its seriousness, we may say a _sportful_
shadow, a mere play of the Fancy, in comparison with that awful Fact and
scientific certainty which it poetically strives to emblem. The Allegory
is the product of the certainty, not the producer of it; not in Bunyan's
nor in any other case. For Paganism, therefore, we have still to inquire,
Whence came that scientific certainty, the parent of such a bewildered heap
of allegories, errors and confusions? How was it, what was it?