Friday, March 4, 2011

The Priests of Baal

And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. I Kings 18:28

Such ancient writers as Seneca, Lucian, Statius, and Apuleius, thus describes the processions of the strolling bands wandering about with the Syrian goddess:— "A discordant howling opens the scene. Then they fly wildly through one another, with the head sunk down to the ground, but turning round in circles so that the loose flowing hair drags through the mire; thereupon they first bite themselves on the arms, and at last cut themselves with two-edged swords which they are wont to carry.

Then begins a new scene. One of them, who surpasses all the rest in frenzy, begins to prophesy with sighs and groans, openly accuses himself of his past sins, which he now wishes to punish by the mortifying of the flesh, takes the knotted whips, and lashes his back, and cuts himself with swords, until the blood trickles from his mangled body."

Van Lennep gives illustrations of these practices which help in visualizing the Carmel scene. " Our modern dervishes indulge in these cuttings only on special occasions, as, for instance, when a procession is organised, and proceeds to the suburbs of a town to pray for rain, or for deliverance from some public calamity: they then exhibit some of their fanatical performances, calling upon God, and cutting themselves with knives and swords, so that the blood runs, or piercing their almost naked bodies with wooden or iron spikes, from which they hang small mirrors. They sometimes become so exhausted with pain and loss of blood as to faint away, so that they have to be borne off."

Sometimes those who are not dervishes are carried away by a similar impulse, and hope to render themselves acceptable to God by undergoing these voluntary tortures.

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