Sunday, June 4, 2017

Human Gods

The Temple Of Apollo At Delphi - Photo taken in April 2017 by the artist.

It is said that when the Celtic warrior Brennus stood at the temple of Apollo in Delphi he looked upon the effigies and laughed. He mocked that the Greeks portrayed their deities in human form, for it is said that the Celts did not. However a couple of centuries later, under Roman subjugation, the Celtic peoples would  worship very human looking deities.  Under Pax Romana it appears that Celtic gods and goddesses were often paired with Roman equivalents. This is often confusing, for example there are numerous Mars' and Jupiters - all bearing their Celtic appellation too, such as Taranis-Jupiter. They also became very Classical in style.

The Celtic deities appear to have been localised gods and goddesses, probably evolving from local land spirits that were believed to inhabit certain locations. What I find fascinating about these Genus Loci, or local land spirits, is that many must have possessed similar attributes to each other. Thus once the Romans had conquered the Celts, their gods, or spirit deities, inherited the forms of the invader's classical, humanised deities. 

The Roman gods were refined versions of Grecian deities. Jupiter is of course Zeus, Mercury is Hermes etc, etc. My viewpoint is that many of the Grecian deities were personifications of the multifaceted sides of human emotion, echoing very human sensibilities - they separated the emotional and physical elements of humanity and gave these parts names and attributes - Athena, goddess of love, Apollo the shining hero. In this manner the ancient Grecian gods gave credence to people’s emotions. And the populace were allowed to express these emotions openly, for better or worse. 

This anthropomorphising of deities came at a price for now the gods and goddesses were on an equal footing. Though grand in scale and idea, they were brought down to human level, bestowed human values -  hence their shortcomings were easier to recognise, beheld, belittled and inevitably, despised. 

Zeus with his bolts of lightning

 However it is interesting to note that the Christian notion of God (and the stereotypical bearded guy was not originally the religion’s intention) is a very Zeus like image*. There again, Yahweh, the tribal Hebrew deity who appeared to ‘win out’ against the other gods (relegating them to the realm of angels and demons), was originally a sky god too. 

Archetype or Indo-European influence? The jury is still out on that one and I'm also undecided. 

But getting back to the Celts. OK, the deities of the barbarous tribes that proliferated Europe, from the Neolithic to the early Iron-Age, hold a deeper sense of mystery for me.  The tribes whose belief systems were  spirit based are the same from which Brennus came. The whole idea of his mocking the Grecian deities because of their human form might be Grecian propaganda, but it is well attested that the Celts preferred not to create representations of their deities. I like the image of the bearded barbarian mocking the human gods, heaping his distain upon the exemplars of civilisation. It's endearing ;)

Taranis-Jupiter, another Sky god plus bolts!


This similarity is evidence of the deep influence that the Hellenes had upon the Bible. They deeply influenced the early Christian and Gnostic mystery cults that came out of Alexandria in the early centuries AD. Many ancient Greek philosophers also played a role in this, unwittingly of course - knowledge, ideas were appropriated and assimilated into the, then, radical religious cult of monotheism. 


Jesus Christ, Sun of God - Neal Monique
Greek Mythology - John Pinsent

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