By  Gerhard  Heym

Two books have recently appeared, which may justly deserve the attention of those who are interested in the mental phase of those abnormal phenomena known loosely as magic. This term embraces a wide field; but we are here concerned with its lower aspects only, such as  witchcraft, sorcery and other similar practices, which centre in what may be called the perversion of religious  worship. The author of these volumes is Prof. A. Grünwedel, the well-known Orientalist of the Berlin Museum, who is a distinguished and widely-known authority on all matters pertaining to Central Asia. It may be of interest to note that this now Emeritus Professor devoted himself in early life to the study of Classical Archaeology, in connection with which he attended lectures on Etruscan Art at the University of Munich. He found himself, however, utterly unable to  accept  the  then current point of view regarding the Etruscans; and so strong was his conviction that the whole subject was based upon false assumptions, that he was obliged to abandon his plan of obtaining a doctor's degree in this field. At this point Sanskrit and Pali engaged his attention, and at the same time he became very much interested in the then little known subject of Buddhism, which led to his definitely devoting him self to Indian Archaeology.

Little enthusiasm existed for this branch of research at that time. In an endeavour to establish a scientific basis for Buddhist Archaeology, our author was led to Central Asia, where certain views as to the sources of this archaeology, held since his student days, were found to be confirmed. In his Museum work he realized that the mythology of Buddhism, and especially that of Lamaism, urgently required scientific formulation; and it was investigation in this field which led our author to the Tantras, and above all to the Sādhanamātā. From now on the most cordial co-operation was offered him by Russian scholars; and these early opinions of our author, which are found sketched in his Buddhist Art in India, have influenced such well-known authorities as Foucher and Sergeij von Oldenburg, as they acknowledge.[1]

In the first book under notice, entitled Tusca [2], Prof. Grünwedel assumes an Egyptian derivation for the Etruscan language. On the basis of this presumption he has been able to decipher certain Etruscan inscriptions. Numerous scholars have attempted to solve the enigma of the Etruscan language; but our author has been the first to study the language from the point of view of its relation to Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Curiously, a work[3] appeared two years after the publication of Tusca, which held that the Etruscan language was a dialect of the Egyptian; but whether or not the conclusions arrived at in this work agree with those of Prof. Grünwedel, I have been so far unable to ascertain.                                     

The decipherment of the inscriptions contained in Tusca presents the reader with a mass of exceedingly loathsome anthropological detail. They are all of a “religious” nature; and the distasteful material they contain, reveals a sordid and debased cult, which is, in fact, a most vile system of demonology. The question naturally arises: Why do Greek and Roman sources contain such meagre evidence regarding Etruscan religion ? Prof. Grünwedel suggests that this is due to the fact, that the whole psychology and instincts of the Etruscans were so alien to the various peoples surrounding them, that an understanding of the real nature of their cult was impossible for their neighbours. Moreover, the Etruscans adopted certain names of Roman divinities, which they applied to numina of a totally different order and significance from those composing the Roman pantheon. This similarity of nomenclature served to conceal from the ancient world the peculiarly sinister character of the Etruscan rites.

In his researches into the provenance of the Etruscan language, Prof. Grünwedel, following earlier authorities, assumed the Oriental origin of the Etruscan people, though they found it impossible to place definitely the locality from which they sprang. In scrutinizing the inscriptions, however, he discovered that certain words bore a striking resemblance to some of the Egyptian god-names – such as Hathor, Nu, Ka, Râ and others. These names invited a survey of Egyptian literature; and this led to the working hypothesis that a passage in the famous Book of the Dead had in all probability served as a prototype for the inscription which appears as the first text in Tusca. As the name of Râ in particular occurs repeatedly in the Etruscan inscription, the Hymn to Râ in the Book of the Dead suggested itself as a possible source; and upon careful study this was found to be the case. An almost word for word agreement was discovered to exist between the Etruscan and Egyptian texts. But although the external correspondence is so striking, the Etruscan version would appear to be a distortion and perversion of the original Egyptian. In Prof. Grünwedel's opinion an unwholesome and perverse atmosphere permeates, not only the religion of the Etruscans, but also their whole art – a point of view which should command the attention of those who are familiar with the examples of Etruscan statuary in the British Museum and in the Louvre.

Using the Egyptian as the key to his translation, our distinguished Orientalist has succeeded in extracting the meaning from the seven inscriptions which appear in Tusca, and which constitute the basic material from which his theories are derived. These texts reveal to us the secret of the Etruscan ritual, which here follows in brief.  

 By means of a human sacrifice, lightning called down from heaven or the sky a perverted form of sun-worship is supposed to enter the body of the person  performing  this  rite, thus inspiring him, so to  speak, and enabling him to attain, as he believed, immortality without passing through the phase of death. This immortality is experienced, however, not in heaven, but in Tartarus – the “hell” of the Etruscans, or their “heaven”, if you will. The lightning, coming from above, is regarded evidently as the personification of a god or a demon, who takes possession of his devotees and gives them supernormal knowledge and power.

Two questions may now be raised: (1) Why have previous investigators failed to give a similar interpretation to these inscriptions? and (2) Are Prof. Grünwedel's conclusions altogether tenable? In answer to the first question, we must remember that our exceedingly well-equipped Orientalist is a profound student of the literature of the Tantra-system, a distasteful phase of Oriental thought, which is usually avoided, or at best misinterpreted. Prof. Bournouf, for example, repelled by the nauseous absurdities of the Tantra-literature, certainly underestimated it as a source of obscene magical beliefs. Our author, owing to his extensive and expert knowledge of the Tibetan language, has read many unpublished and obscure texts, and has acquired, in addition, information from some of the Lamas at first hand. The less known phase of the Tantra-system treats of magic in its most degraded manifestations, and its sinister influence has, in the opinion of Prof. Grünwedel, profoundly modified not only later Buddhism but almost every other existing Oriental religion. Its traces are to be found in countries as remotely separated as China and Japan and the Malay Islands. The centre of Tantrism is Tibet, where two sects are to be found: the old “Red Caps” and the reformed  “Yellow Caps”.

The literature of the latter sect contains only veiled allusions to the Tantra-cult. The older literature has been partly destroyed by the reformed sect; but its extant portions give us most frank and open commentaries on Tantra-practices, which are an invaluable aid in understanding goëtic literature in general. Prof. Grünwedel insists strictly on this, and holds that these commentaries alone enable us to comprehend the very subtle and diversified literature of the reformed Tibetan sect. As humanitarian and Buddhist phraseology is invariably employed to conceal the fundamental Tantric ideas, most Occidental scholars have failed to penetrate into the hidden meanings of the Tibetan writings and also into those of that part of the Tantra-literature written in Sanskrit.

In the Tantra-texts, and especially in the com­mentaries of the older Tibetan sect, Prof. Grünwedel has found a certain ritual, repeated again and again, which corresponds in striking fashion to the ritual preserved in the Etruscan inscriptions. This recurrence of similar ceremonials has proved to our student of comparative demonology, that the Etruscan ritual is not simply the subjective interpretation of a scholar, but is, in fact, an earlier manifestation of a widespread system of “black magic” the  counterpart  of  which  exists  today  in its most undisguised form in Tibet.  In addition, the Tantras contain many similarities to the witch-cult of mediaeval times.  The position of the witches at the altar, known from old prints, corresponds  to that of the Tantric sorcerer; sacrifices of children occur in the West, and similar  practices  are commented  upon in the Tantras ; witches that fly through the air are counterparts  of  the  Oriental  Dâkinîs, so  important in the  Tantra-system;   the  hearing  of  children,  according to the Tantras, is tabu, and woman is therefore cursed – sentiments which are professed by the witches and sorcerers in the West. In tracing the origins of mediaeval witchcraft and sorcery, there is found evidence pointing to the fact that mediaeval Tuscany, the former home of the ancient Etruscans, was one of the centres from which these practices radiated. It may be interesting to note, for example, that the sorcerers employed by the notorious Gilles de Rais (Blue Beard) were Florentines, as well as the fact that a curious painting in the Campo Santo at Pisa, depicting Satan in the act of spewing forth his devotees, recalls strangely similar representations of Tibetan demons. Thus, the Tantras, mediaeval witchcraft and the Etruscan inscriptions are interpreted as different phases of one and the same abominable cult. The origin of this phenomenon is further elaborated in the second book under notice.

We now come to our second question. In considering the origin of the Tantra-system, Prof. Grünwedel dismisses the possibility that the cult is indigenous to Tibet or India, and points with confidence to Iran as the land from which this System was imported. He believes that those elements of Tantrism which do not belong to the later degenerate Buddhism, are derived from an Iranian religion. By Iranian is here meant more particularly Manichaean. Manichaeism, the religion of Mani, is thus believed by our author to be the source or intermediary of the Tantra-system. From later Greek and Roman times onward, the Manichaeans were almost universally regarded as disseminators of an evil tradition; they were bitterly persecuted, and with especial severity in their native land of Persia.

In mediaeval times many heretical sects were held to be influenced by the Manichaeans, which resulted in widespread abhorrence of their teaching in the West. Modern scholarship has, however, dispelled these views, and has revealed to us in Manichaeism an eclectic religion with sincere worshippers, whose priests, the “Electi”, followed a most rigorous and extreme asceticism, and whose scribes have bequeathed to us miniatures of great delicacy and beauty. It is, therefore, somewhat surprising to find Prof. Grünwedel holding this sect in such complete and utter condemnation, as the guardian and hander on of a tradition essentially evil and destructive.

The reasons for his attitude, however, are elaborated throughout his works, and especially in one book that describes a series of wall-paintings found in the caves of Buddhist monks in Central Asia.[4] These paintings show how the Buddhism which was brought to this region from India, is modified and finally debased by a foreign influence. The priests of this new religion are the “White Robed Ones”, who are to be identified with the Manichaeans. In certain of the caves, which are assumed to be the earlier, paintings purely Buddhistic in character exist, while in other caves Manichaean elements are present, which finally gain the complete ascendancy. It is interesting to note in this connection, that genuine Manichaean literary documents have been recently found in this locality.[5] These documents and fragments, which include miniatures of rare beauty, are our only direct sources of the religion of Mani, and throw no unfavourable light on the Manichaean doctrines, as far as has been at present discovered.

Prof. Grünwedel, however, has detected in Chinese and Tibetan literary sources clear and pointed references to the degenerating influence of the Manichaeans. According to these sources, the arrival of the emissaries of this cult in different parts of the Orient was followed by a debasement of the religion existing in the locality. It is in the Tantra-system of Tibet, according to Prof. Grünwedel, that the degenerating effect of Manichaean influences is most clearly revealed to the investigator.

Having assumed the Manichaean origin of the Tantra-system, our author attempts to investigate the doctrine of Mani itself, which he does in the second book under notice.[6] Contemporary sources mention the fact that the Manichaeans possessed a secret writing, which was concealed from profane eyes, with the result that all traces seem to have disappeared. Believing that the Etruscans perverted the ideas of the Egyptians, Prof. Grünwedel has assumed that they had actually borrowed the hieroglyphs. As Manichaeism, seen through the medium of the Tantras, appears to him to be a later development of the cult preserved to us in the Etruscan inscriptions, our author now postulates that a system of hieroglyphs might have been used also by Mani and the votaries of his cult to express their magic formulae. The real secret of the faith was reserved for the “Electi”, always few in number, who understood the hieroglyphs. On the headdresses of the demons in the Manichaean miniatures of Idyqutsähri [7] Prof. Grünwedel has actually found some of  these symbols, which were  meant,  presumably, to  convey  to  the  initiate  the true  character of these entities. These hieroglyphs constitute one of Prof. Grünwedel's most amazing discoveries, for they strikingly resemble the hieroglyphs in the so-called Hittite inscriptions, from Hamath and Jerabis and other places, some of which are to be seen in the British Museum. These Hittite inscriptions, which have largely baffled decipherment, are now claimed by our author to be inscriptions in the language of the Medes, and quite unlike those used by the Egyptians. A few Egyptian characters occur in this script, which simply serve to show the familiarity of this people with Egyptian. Some of these inscriptions have small signs placed above certain of the characters, which render the phrase subject to a double interpretation. It is stated by our learned decipherer that this second language extracted from the Hittite inscriptions corresponds to that of the Etruscan inscribed texts. Prof. Grünwedel considers, indeed, that these bilingual inscriptions are among the most extraordinary in history.

These Hittite stone texts, according to our author, were set up by the Medes, the people who destroyed Nineveh and exterminated demon worship, the state religion of the Assyrians, in order to expose the cult in all its frightfulness as a warning to the conquering nation and also to the vanquished. By means of the bilingual system the conquered nation was addressed in symbols which were understandable, and which, as magic formulae, had now lost their efficacy. These formulae closely resemble the texts of the Etruscan inscriptions, and, like them, are revolting and horrible.

The Median part of these so-called Hittite inscriptions describes the battle against the powers of evil, indicating the nature of the cult that had been destroyed, but without giving details as to the ritual.

The part of the inscription in “Etruscan”, to use this name to distinguish the two languages, prohibits all attempts to revive the old cult by condemning to the most severe punishments those who attempted to draw down “lightning from heaven”. The Median inscriptions are of the greatest interest, in that they refer to the most ancient Iranian tradition, a small portion of which is still extant in the Avesta, but which, because of an imperfect text, is difficult to interpret. These Median passages are, according to Prof. Grünwedel, the prototypes, indeed the original version, of several verses of the Zamyâd-Yast.

In the Median version of the so-called Hittite inscriptions, according to our authority, an account is given of how an Iranian, an Aryan race, with Zarathustra himself mentioned as their leader, overthrew a people who worshipped a pantheon of infamous gods or demons. These gods are referred to in the Avesta as the devils or devs, which fact accounts for the title of the work under consideration – Die Teufel des Avesta. The struggle of Zarathustra against the powers of darkness would seem, therefore, to be an historical reality. One of the inscriptions, it is said, describes how Zarathustra drove the devils under the earth, and there bound them fast, with allusions to Nineveh, Babylon and other cities, which participated in the terrible struggle. It is further remarkable to find that the names of the evil numina worshipped by the people of Nineveh reappear in the Etruscan inscriptions, and also in the Tantras, and that similar rites are described in each case, which would seem to point to the Hittite inscriptions as the historical source for the later manifestation of this debased religion.

In  a forthcoming work Prof. Grünwedel intends  to demonstrate the relation between mediaeval witchcraft and the demons of these earlier peoples.

One of the bilingual inscriptions appears on the base of a sculptured lion, and another, called “the inscription of the sword”, shows the remnant of a sword in relief. The lion and the sword were the ancient Iranian symbols of kingship ; and our author points out how the Tantra-literature has appropriated the sword motive, while giving to it the very terrible interpretation of being sacred, because it liberated the victim from the long chain of rebirths. Prof. Grünwedel maintains that this is the hidden meaning of the sword when mentioned in the Tantras.

Not all the inscriptions which Prof. Grünwedel has thus deciphered, are of the so-called Hittite class. Some of them are supposed to be of Babylonian origin, written in cursive form; but a close examination has resulted in the discovery by our authority that  the language is not Babylonian but Median, employing a system of hieroglyphs identical with those of the above-mentioned Hittite inscriptions, although less well executed. The texts, on decipherment, prove to be similar to the other Hittite texts – namely, decrees prohibiting the worship of demons in Babylonian lands.

These inscriptions are monolingual and do not contain an “Etruscan” version.    In the  remaining part of the work Prof. Grünwedel further elucidates the Tantra-system. He emphasizes how the  Tibetans have cleverly concealed  the Tantric allusions in their literature ; and,  by way of example, he gives us the well-known tale Roruka Avadâna, and explains  its hidden meaning.     The  role  of  Manjushri is discussed – a potent Bodhisat in  the Tantra-pantheon, who  is  depicted   as  the  incarnation  of  the ideal sorcerer.


[1] The works of Prof. Grünwedel are as follows (apart from the books under discussion) :

(1) Das Pantheon des Tschangtscha Hutuktu. Beiträge zur Ikonographie des Lamaïsmus. Berlin, 1890, 4to. (2) Buddha-Studien. Berlin,  1097, fol.(3) Mythologie des Buddhismus. Leipzig, 1900. 8vo (188 illustr.). (4) Buddhist Art in India. London, 1901, 8vo. (5) Alt-buddhistische Kultstätten in Chinesisch-Turkestan. (Archäologische Forschungen 1906-7.) Berlin, 1912, 4to. (6) Bericht über archäologische Arbeiten in Idikutschari, im Winter 1902-3. München, 1906, 4to. (7) Der Weg nach Sambhala. Trans. from the Tibetan by A. G. München, 1914. (8) Aus Feodor Jagor's Nachlass. Herausgegeben von A. G. Berlin, 1914, 4to. (9) Ngag Dbang JBlo Bzamg Rgyo Mthso. Die Tempel von Lhasa. By the First Dalai Lama of Lhasa. Trans. by A. G. Heidelberg, 1919. (10) Der Indische Kulturkreis. Heraus­gegeben von A. G. und Andere. Berlin, 1920, fol. 


[2] Tusca. Leipzig, 1922, 4to.


[3] Hilaire de Barenton, La Langue Etrusque, Dialecte de L'Ancien Egyptien, Paris, 4to, 63 pp.


[4] Alt-Kutscha, Berlin, 1920, fol, 2 vols. (vol. II: plates).


[5] See Butkitt,  Religion of the Manichees, London, 1925 (contains bibliography).


[6]Die Teufel des Avesta.    Berlin, 1924, fol., pp. 447+113.


[7] Von le Coq, Die buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien,  Part II., Berlin, 1923, fol.