Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

14 June, 2012

Of Gods and Men

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I have an exam tomorrow. I also need a post for tomorrow. In a beautiful union of rocks and birds, I’m going revise and write a post at the same time. I’m afraid the result might be a bit disjointed, lacking an overarching unity, or indeed point, but I’m going to risk it.

Gods crop up in plenty of religions, and certainly in all the ones I’m currently studying. They all have some different ideas on how the relationship between gods and men work, however.

Ancient Mesopotamia is probably the most pessimistic in its outlook: Humans were created as slaves for the gods, so that the gods wouldn’t have to do any work themselves. Tilling the soil, building irrigation channels, growing food and building temples are all really boring tasks that the gods didn’t feel like doing themselves. Serving the gods meant performing labour, and giving them its fruits. Prayers and rituals were about warding off misfortune, and keeping the god-kings happy. Such a cheery time.

The ancient Egyptians were also big on serving the gods, but with a less pessimistic outlook. The creation of Man wasn’t elaborated on much, but humans were part of the ordered cosmos the gods maintained. The gods also held back the chaos of the barren desert and lifeless night, maintaining the constant cycle of birth and rebirth in the universe. Priests, a special class, performed daily rituals of service and sacrifice in the temples, on behalf of the king, whose job it actually was. The king was both divine and human, the point of intersection that linked the two spheres.

The ancient Greeks were a bit unclear on the creation of Man, though the Orphic cycle held that human were created from the ashes of the titans that devoured Dionysus. What is more clear is the creation of woman – Zeus sent woman to men as a punishment, forcing them to endure them if they wanted to procreate and have their families live on. Zeus was a bit miffed at having been tricked into taking the useless bits of the animal as his share in a sacrifice, and then shortly thereafter having fire stolen from him by Prometheus. Here, the gods were rulers of the cosmos, who had shaped the world order and had great power over people’s lives. When an animal was sacrificed, the bones and fat were burned, while the people performing the sacrifice ate the meat in a feast – sharing a meal with the gods. Prayers were almost contracts – Man honoured the gods, in exchange for blessings.

The Romans took this further, there’s a reason do ut des is in Latin. There were gods all over the place, and if you honoured them properly, but not excessively, they’d smile on you. The Romans figured the reason for their prosperity was their great piety. They resembled the Greeks in their ritual practice, in many cases at least. They also imported gods and cults from all over their empire, so there was obviously some variety.

Making a leap north, and ahead a millennium or so, we get to the Vikings. Here, too, we have the gods as beings of order, holding back the forces of chaos – and doing an ever worsening job of it. Seriously, they keep giving away weapons and losing members and in general weakening, all leading up to the big collapse to come. Anyway, humans are in the middle, between the realm of gods and the realm of chaos, and can use all the protection they can get, and therefore sacrifice and hold festivals in the gods’ honour. Meanwhile, Odin collects dead people to boost his forces for the last battle – great plan, Odin! An army of all the people who didn’t survive their battles! Cream of the crop, I’m sure. Can’t go wrong.

I think I’m going to stop here. This did end up feeling a bit disjointed and rushed, but meh. I have an exam, what do you want from me?!


  1. I thought this was rather a fun read, but of course, I’m biased.

    Going off on a tangent, wasn’t the con within the con that Zeus really wanted the (for the humans) crappy part of the offering anyway? And he tricked them into giving him that which he really wanted?

    Also, hee, ZEUS, sends women to humans to punish them? Did THAT ever come back to bite his married ass over and over and over again.

    I think Odin’s plan is pretty shoddy too. I mean, he doesn’t even have numbers, far more people died of disease! Presumably he knew something clever which we don’t. Us not having hanged ourselves on Yggdrasil to converse with the wise among the dead and suchforth.

    Though if he’d only told the Valkyries to fetch the WISE dead and not the battle-dead, he could have strolled out in the garden to chat with them instead. :(

    Good luck today, hope you do stunningly swell!

    Comment by Loki — 14 June, 2012 @ 08:46

  2. The con within the con was Hesiod’s pious revision of the existing myths. “Oh, sure, it looked like the mighty Zeus was tricked, but that was totally what he actually wanted all along!”

    Comment by Obdormio — 14 June, 2012 @ 10:02

  3. Ah, quite, that makes sense. Unlike Odin’s hanging out-habits.

    Comment by Loki — 14 June, 2012 @ 10:49

  4. Kunne du ikkje ha skrive slike greie oppsummeringar før tysdag…? Reknar med det gjekk bra i dag, so lenge du heldt deg unna kommentarar om den manglande klokskapen til desse (ikkje fullt so) allmektige. God ferie!

    Comment by Mari — 14 June, 2012 @ 20:50

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