Thursday, February 15, 2007

Where is the grave-yard of dead gods?

"Did the Romans really believe in all those gods, Mom?"

That's what I asked when I was about 10. I wonder how long it will be before someone asks his mother if people really ever believed in Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah.

Via Ed Brayton, Mencken's "Memorial Service":

Where is the grave-yard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their mounds? There was a day when Jupiter was the king of the gods, and any man who doubted his puissance was ipso facto a barbarian and an ignoramus. But where in all the world is there a man who worships Jupiter to-day? And what of Huitzilopochtli? In one year-and it is no more than five hundred years ago-50,000 youths and maidens were slain in sacrifice to him. Today, if he is remembered at all, it is only by some vagrant savage in the depths of the Mexican forest. Huitzilopochtli, like many other gods, had no human father; his mother was a virtuous widow; he was born of an apparently innocent flirtation that she carried on with the sun. When he frowned, his father, the sun, stood still. When he roared with rage, earthquakes engulfed whole cities. When he thirsted he was watered with 10,000 gallons of human blood. But today [in 1921] Huitzilopochtli is as magnificently forgotten as Allen G. Thurman. Once the peer of Allah, Buddha, and Wotan, he is now the peer of General Coxey, Richmond P. Hobson, Nan Petterson, Alton B. Parker, Adelina Patti, General Weyler, and Tom Sharkey.

Speaking of Huitzilopochtli recalls his brother, Tezcatilpoca. Tezcatilpoca was almost as powerful: He consumed 25,000 virgins a year. Lead me to his tomb: I would weep, and hang a couronne des perles. But who knows where it is? Or where the grave of Quitzalcontl is? Or Tialoc? Or Chalchihuitlicue? Or Xiehtecutli? Or Centeotl, that sweet one? Or Tlazolteotl, the goddess of love? Or Mictlan? Or Ixtlilton? Or Omacatl? Or Yacatecutli? Or Mixcoatl? Or Xipe? Or all the host of Tzitzimitles? Where are their bones? Where is the willow on which they hung their harps? In what forlorn and unheard of hell do they await the resurrection morn? Who enjoys their residuary estates? Or that of Dis, whom Caesar found to be the chief god of the Celts? Or that of Tarves, the bull? Or that of Moccos, the pig? Or that of Epona, the mare? Or that of Mullo, the celestial jack-ass? There was a time when the Irish revered all these gods as violently as they now hate the English. But today even the drunkest Irishman laughs at them.

But they have company in oblivion: The hell of dead gods is as crowded as the Presbyterian hell for babies. Damona is there, and Esus, and Drunemeton, and Silvana, and Dervones, and Adsalluta, and Deva, and Belisama, and Axona, and Vintios, and Taranuous, and Sulis, and Cocidius, and Adsmerius, and Dumiatis, and Caletos, and Moccus, and Ollovidius, and Albiorix, and Leucitius, and Vitucadrus, and Ogmios, and Uxellimus, and Borvo, and Grannos, and Mogons. All mighty gods in their day, worshiped by millions, full of demands and impositions, able to bind and loose-all gods of the first class, not dilettanti. Men labored for generations to build vast temples to them-temples with stones as large as hay-wagons. The business of interpreting their whims occupied thousands of priests, wizards, archdeacons, evangelists, haruspices, bishops, archbishops. To doubt them was to die, usually at the stake. Armies took to the field to defend them against infidels: Villages were burned, women and children were butchered, cattle were driven off. Yet in the end they all withered and died, and today there is none so poor to do them reverence. Worse, the very tombs in which they lie are lost, and so even a respectful stranger is debarred from paying them the slightest and politest homage.

What has become of Sutekh, once the high god of the whole Nile Valley? What has become of:

Resheph
Anath
Ashtoreth
El
Nergal
Nebo
Ninib
Melek

Ahijah
Isis
Ptah
Anubis
Baal
Astarte
Hadad
Addu

Shalem
Dagon
Sharrab
Yau
Amon-Re
Osiris
Sebek
Molech?

All these were once gods of the highest eminence. Many of them are mentioned with fear and trembling in the Old Testament. They ranked, five or six thousand years ago, with Jahveh himself; the worst of them stood far higher than Thor. Yet they have all gone down the chute, and with them the following:

Bilé
Ler
Arianrod
Morrigu
Govannon
Gunfled
Sokk-mimi
Memetona
Dagda
Robigus
Pluto
Ops
Meditrina
Vesta
Tilmun
Ogyrvan
Dea Dia
Ceros
Vaticanus
Edulia
Adeona
Iuno Lucina
Saturn
Furrina
Vediovis
Consus
Cronos
Enki
Engurra
Belus
Dimmer
Mu-ul-lil
Ubargisi
Ubilulu
Gasan lil
U-dimmer-an-kia
Enurestu
U-sab-sib

Kerridwen
Pwyll
Tammuz
Venus
Bau
Mulu-hursang
Anu
Beltis
Nusku
U-Mersi
Beltu
Dumu-zi-abzu
Kuski-banda
Sin
Abil Addu
Apsu
Dagan
Elali
Isum
Mami
Nin-man
Zaraqu
Suqamunu
Zagaga
Gwydion
Manawyddan
Nuada Argetlam
Tagd
Goibniu
Odin
Llaw Gyffes
Lleu
Ogma
Mider
Rigantona
Marzin
Mars
Kaawanu

Ni-zu
Sahi
Aa
Allatu
Jupiter
Cunina
Potina
Statilinus
Diana of Ephesus
Nin-azu
Lugal-Amarada
Zer-panitu
Merodach
U-ki
Dauke
Gasan-abzu
Elum
U-Tin-dir-ki
Marduk
Nin-lil-la
Nin
Persephone
Istar
Lagas
U-urugal
Sirtumu
Ea
Nirig
Nebo
Samas
Ma-banba-anna
En-Mersi
Amurru
Assur
Aku
Qarradu
Ura-gala
Ueras

You may think I spoof. That I invent the names. I do not. Ask the rector to lend you any good treatise on comparative religion: You will find them all listed. They were gods of the highest standing and dignity-gods of civilized peoples-worshiped and believed in by millions. All were theoretically omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. And all are dead.

10 comments:

CyberKitten said...

I've been reading reports that worship of the 'old Gods' is making a comeback in Europe - particularly Greece, Italy & the Scandinavian countries. As Christianity continues to decline there it is hardly surprising that older supressed Gods are having a revival.

I'm not sure if many religions/Gods completely die out....

Sadie Lou said...

For me, this article is awesome. But for different reasons I suppose.
:)

C.L. Hanson said...

This point struck me forcefully when I was visiting the Aquitaine Museum here in Bordeaux recently. The main part of the museum is a long parade of local artifacts starting from cave paintings all the way up to modern times. As you take the tour, you're in one room looking at pious statues of Roman gods, and in the next room it's suddenly pious statues of Christian saints.

Discussing with modern theists today, it almost seems like it's just a rhetorical game to ask them why they don't believe in Zeus. But it isn't. At different times (and in different places) belief these various gods was the majority religion, and the people really believed in it.

This may be another component to the answer to why Europeans are less religious than Americans. Americans very strongly trace their history back to the (largely Christain) European invasion of the Americas, and no earlier. Europeans naturally think of their history as extending well into pre-Christian times. So they're more familiar with the idea that ancestor X believed wholeheartedly in Jupiter (or whoever), and then ancestor Y -- a few generations later -- believed just as strongly in Jesus.

I don't know how much of an effect this has psychologically, but it may make it easier to step back and look realistically at the big picture...

Anonymous said...

Feh. I know atheists delight in making this point, but really its a bit bogus. Various cultures have imagined god(s) in various ways. It has no bearing on the real god (assuming it exists).
xgh

Jewish Atheist said...

Various cultures have imagined god(s) in various ways. It has no bearing on the real god (assuming it exists).

Maybe not, but it has a lot of bearing on religions. What percentage of today's Christians would have been pagans if they happened to have been born in ancient Greece? How about today's atheists?

Random said...

"Or where the grave of Quitzalcontl is? Or Tialoc? Or Chalchihuitlicue? Or Xiehtecutli? Or Centeotl, that sweet one? Or Tlazolteotl, the goddess of love? Or Mictlan? Or Ixtlilton? Or Omacatl? Or Yacatecutli? Or Mixcoatl? Or Xipe?"

Remind me never to play Scrabble with an Aztec priest...

But, as anonymous said, the fact that various cultures have different labels that reflect their own experiences of the Divine and that some of those labels are no longer used says nothing about the existence of that being worshipped.

As to what I'd be if I'd been born in ancient Greece - well, it appears that from late classical times, certainly from the time of Socrates onward, the more intellectual end of the Greek world was getting embarassed by the crude polytheism of their forbears (when you're building the most advanced, enlightened and cultured civilisation in the world it must be aggravating to be told to worship a gang of drunken adulterers like the House of Olympus...) and was starting to deduce an understanding of the Divine that was much closer to the monotheism of the Abrahamic tradition (hence the "Unknown God" Paul preaches on in Athens). The works of the Platonists and Neo-Platonists along these lines would indeed go on to have a significant influence on the development of Christian theology. So, if I'd been around then I'd like to think I'd still be a monotheist even if I'd been denied access to any of the Abrahamic revelations - those guys had some odd ideas at times, but overall they seemed to have more going for them than the various cults.

Wil said...

I'm not sure if it's Lugal-Amarada or Kaawanu or who, but obviously these gods are pissed. Thus, global warming, the rise in autism, and George W. Bush. We are being punished.

beepbeepitsme said...

These gods died with the political and economic societies which spawned them. There traces can be found in the gods which follow after them.

"The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar." Ooops, I mean Mithras.

David said...

Did you see this recent news item about worshippers of the Greek gods holding their first service in about 1,600 years?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/6285397.stm

Anonymous said...

You'd be suprised how widespread disenchantment is with Judaism in particular, from personal observation within secular AND religious circles.