“The monstrous bird of the Arabian Nights, or “Arabian Mythology”, as Webster calls the Ruc, (or Roc), having been identified, the next thing in order is to discover and recognize that Alladin’s magical lamp has also certain claims to reality.
Describing his passage through the great desert of Lop, Marco Polo speaks of a marvelous thing, “which is that, when travelers are on the move by night…they will hear spirits talking. Sometimes the spirits will call him by name…even in the daytime one hears these spirits talking. And sometimes you shall hear the sound of a variety of musical instruments, and still more commonly the sound of drums.”
In his notes, the translator quotes the Chinese historian, Matwanlin, who corroborates the same. “During the passage of this wilderness you hear sounds”, says Matwanlin, “sometimes of singing, sometimes of wailing; and it has often happened that travelers going aside to see what those sounds might be, have strayed from their course and been entirely lost; for they were voices of spirits and goblins.” “These goblins are not peculiar to the Gobi”, adds the editor, “though that appears to have been their most favored haunt. The awe of the vast and solitary desert raises them in all similar localities.”
Colonel Yule would have done well to consider the possibility of serious consequences arising from the acceptance of his theory. If we admit that the weird cries of the Gobi are due to the awe inspired “by the vast and solitary desert”, why should the goblins of the Gadarenes, (Luke 8:29), be entitled to any better consideration? And why may not Jesus have been self-deceived as to his objective tempter during the forty days’ trial in the “wilderness”? We are quite ready to receive or reject the theory enunciated by Colonel Yule but shall insist upon its impartial application to all cases.
Pliny speaks of the phantoms that appear and vanish in the deserts of Africa; AEthicus, the early Christian cosmographer, mentions, though incredulous, the stories that were told of the voices of singers and revelers in the desert; and “Mas’udi tells of the ghuls, which in the deserts appear to travelers by night and in lonely hours”; and also of “Apollonius of Tyana and his companions, who, in a desert near the Indus by moonlight, saw an empusa or ghul taking many forms. They revile it, and it goes off uttering shrill cries.”
And Ibn Batuta relates a like legend of the Western Sahara: “If the messenger be solitary, the demons sport with him and fascinate him, so that he strays from his course and perishes.”
Now if all these matters are capable of a “rational explanation”, and we do not doubt it as regards most of these cases, then, the Bible-devils of the wilderness deserve no more consideration but should have the same rule applied to them. They, too, are creatures of terror, imagination, and superstition; hence, the narratives of the Bible must be false; and if one single verse is false, then a cloud is thrown upon the title of all the rest to be considered divine revelation. Once admit this, and this collection of canonical documents is at least as amenable to criticism as any other book of stories.”
H. P. Blavatsky