Thursday, April 17, 2008

Are Greeks Closet Polytheists?

I have a dear friend and folk-harp colleague, Patrice Haan, who shared a vacation story with me once at a folk harp weekend that I found very interesting.

How do you describe a goddess? Patrice, in addition to being a very talented harper, singer, and performer, is a woman of striking beauty. I am about 5' 11'' tall, and the top of my head comes up to her chin. I'll let the photo cover the 1,000 words of florid description that I could have written about her, and stick to the things that the photo can't show you. She moves with precision and a reserved grace that makes everyone around her seem a little schlumpy in comparison. No one minds, though, because within minutes of meeting Patrice, they all know that they're in the presence of a great spirit. She elevates you just by being herself.

Υποδοχή στην Ελλάδα! Welcome to Greece! Patrice was vacationing in Greece, and had just arrived in an out-of-the-way village. A man picked her out of the crowd, approached her and knelt before her in reverence, exclaiming "Athene! Athene! We knew you would come back to us! We never stopped worshipping you!" Apparently, he thought that the dark age of horrors Christian Era had passed and the Olympians were coming back to set things right. Anyone could be excused for mistaking Patrice for an avatar of the Goddess of Wisdom, but it went a bit beyond that for this guy. He seemed convinced that her denials were a kind of test of his devotion. For the duration of her visit, he continued to worship her.

Patrice and I have never discussed her own religious leanings explicitly, but I get the strong feeling that she herself wouldn't be opposed to throwing a pinch of incense on the brazier at the altar of Hera. I might be speaking out of turn there; wouldn't be the first time.

More Information
  • Patrice Haan Learn more about The Avatar of Athene and buy her CDs
  • Dodekatheism "a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past." — Father Eustathios Kollas
  • Religious freedom in modern Greece Give it a read. Doesn't sound too free to me.
So here's my question: given the choice, would Greeks (some? a bunch? a majority?) return to their native religion? Rebuild the Acropolis? Spark up a few doobies at Delphi and finally get some good advice? There are some folks, notably in Greece itself, who are working to re-establish the worship of their own Gods. The Greek Orthodox Church has noticed, but doesn't seem too threatened just yet. What do you think, Corps of Discovery?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Favorite Rant Ever: Thank you, Matt from Oklahoma!

I got this from a newspaper comment stream. The poster was called Matt from Oklahoma. I don't know if he wrote it, but I'm super happy that I have it, no matter who the author.

You guys make a lot of great points about the radical homosexual agenda of wanting to be equal. It got me thinking of the biggest threat of all, gay marriage. Here are the reasons why we must never allow such an un-American act to be recognized.

First, Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

Second, Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

Third, Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

Fourth, Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can’t marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

Fifth, Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears’ 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

Sixth, Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn’t be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren’t full yet, and the world needs more children.

Seventh, Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

Eight, Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That’s why we have only one religion in America.

Ninth, Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That’s why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

And Finally, Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven’t adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

As Above, So Below: King-solidation

Have you ever, in reading Arthurian stories or the like, encountered the term "High King?" Ever wonder why the qualification was necessary? Well, I find the story interesting.

Back in the day, when Nordic people honored Odin and Thor and Freya, and Celts prayed to Lugh and Brìd and their peeps, (the Tuatha Dé Danann) there wasn't just one king in a country. And also, countries weren't quite so firmly defined. Really more like territories; strongly held in the center filtering out to disputed areas on the periphery. By the way, we're really only talking about a few hundred years into the Common Era here - not back in the Bronze Age.

As Europe was gradually infected with converted to Christianity, things began to change. Instead of one king for something like a bioregion in federation with other similarly-powerful monarchs, we start to see a vertical relationship. Bioregional kings start to report to a national (sort-of) high king.

The squeeze is starting to happen.

In the monotheistic cosmology, there is a finite amount of power available, and the more people who are sharing it it, the less powerful each is. Just like Yahweh demanding supremacy among the Semetic gods, we start to see high kings demanding supreme power over their formerly sovereign sub-sovereigns.

Note to Self
I need to get some good citations going for this particular point, since I don't expect anyone to just believe me. I'll get right on that.

Pretty soon after that, none of the local thugs nobility are called kings anymore. They've all been demoted to lower ranks, just like when Yahweh handed the entire Cananite pantheon its collective hat in one swell foop.

So, how did this thirst for absolute power find its way so far West? Is it just a natural step in the evolution of society? Not in my opinion. It's the thick edge of the monotheistic wedge. If your whole cosmology is based around the idea that there's just one sovereign power in the whole universe, which direction to you think society is going to go in? Pluralism? Democracy? Ummm. No.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

As Above, So Below: The Rise of Yahweh

I'd like to take some time to explore what I think are parallels between the emergence and evolution of monotheism from the pre-Mosaic period through the destruction of the second temple and the rise and consolidation of monarchy in medieval Europe. The changes are separated by a good couple thousand years, with that whole Roman period in the middle, but there is a similar shape that has struck me as significant.

E Pluribus Unum Let's take a page from our Christian friends and start off with the Book of Genesis. The first words of the Bible in Hebrew are breshit bara elohim. That word, elohim, is an ancient one and has had plenty of time to accrete irregularities. On the surface, it looks like a plural derived from its root, eloah, meaning "god." So, you might jump ahead and say that elohim means "gods" and not be completely wrong. The verb bara, however, is singular. A superficially plural word being used as a singular sounds to me like a remnant of an older tradition poking its head through, and in fact most Biblical scholars (actual scholars, not religious zealots) think the same. The late Bronze Age texts of Canaanite Ugarit use the word to denote the entire pantheon of the father god, El.

What did that burning bush say again? Next little clue. When Yahweh delivers his commandments to Moses, he orders that the children of Israel shall have "no other gods before me." In Hebrew, the word elohim is used in that sentence for "gods." Hmmm. Pretty clear indication to me that Yahweh is recognizing that people have other gods while asserting his supremacy.

You're All Fired! In a fresh, bold translation of the Book of Psalms by Robert Alter (see link below), we are shown a mythological, poetic vision of the moment at which Yahweh succeeds in vanquishing all the other gods of his pantheon:

God takes his stand in the divine assembly
in the midst of the gods he renders judgement
"How long will you judge dishonestly
and show favor to the wicked?
Do justice to the poor and the orphan.
Vindicate the lowly and the wretched.
Free the poor and the needy
from the hand of the wicked; save them!
They do not know and do not grasp,
in darkness they walk about.
All the Earth's foundations totter.
As for me, I had thought you were gods,
and the sons of the Most High were you all.
Yet indeed like humans you shall die,
and like one of the princes, fall.

More Information

Whoa! Did Yahweh just have a total Donald Trump moment, strip all the other gods of their divinity and make them mortal? Harsh!

In the next segment, I'll go into the ways that feudal Europe paralleled this change in its concept of what a king is.