THE NATURE OF THE GODS
THE NATURE OF THE GODS
FOTO by Ophelia2, who has released it to the Public Domain - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brauron_-_Relief_of_the_Gods.jpg
“While all who have mind, O Klea, should ask for all their blessings from the Gods --- let us, by pursuing after them, pray to obtain from them those [blessings] of gnosis concerning them, as far as ‘tis within the reach of men; in that there’s nothing greater for a man to get, nor more majestic for a God to give, than Truth.
“Of other things their God gives men what they require, whereas of mind and wisdom He gives a share to them --- since He [Himself] possesses these and uses [them].
“For the Divine is neither blest through silver and through gold, nor strong through thunderings and lightnings, but [blest and strong] by gnosis and by wisdom.”
(Ἠθικὰ Πλουτάρχου· 26.1.1-2 Περὶ Ἴσιδος καὶ Ὀσίριδος, trans. G. R. S. Mead, 1906)
THE THÆÍ (Θέοι):
INTRODUCTION TO THE THÆÍ:
Differences between the Hellenic and the Christian view of Deity
Ællînismόs (Hellênismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, stands in great contrast to the monotheistic religions with their theologies which place God in an entirely different and 'spiritual' realm. In our religion, the Gods partake of the same laws which we are governed by, to such an extent that our very substance is identical to that of the Gods. We are of the substance of Gods and they are intimately available to us as both we and they intimately partake in the natural world. We are enveloped by deity for the kózmos is divine, the universe is sacred.
When people discover Ællînismόs, they arrive with preconceptions, usually acquired from Christianity. Some of the Christian ideas are in harmony with the ancient religion, but many are not. First and foremost, the Christian conception of deity is monotheist, a belief in only one God. According to their theology, this deity manifests the following qualities: God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and immutable (unchanging). God is said to be ever-existing; he exists for all time, in the past and into the future. God is said to be immaterial. All of these ideas about deity are Christian concepts and are foreign to our religion. Some are Christian-Platonic; in other words, some of these ideas about deity arose from the blending of Platonic ideas with Christian ideas. None of these qualities are consistent with the pre-Platonic teaching of Orphismós nor with Ællînismόs generally. In the essay below, the Hellenic ideas concerning deity, particularly the Orphic view, will be presented, and some of the differences from the Christian conception will be become obvious.
There are other qualities which the Christians attribute to divinity which are accepted as true in our religion, at least to an extent, ideas such as the the goodness of the Gods, that some of the Gods have sovereignty over the laws of nature, and that some Gods are personal.
Differences between the ideas of Gods found in mythology and the understanding of the Gods in the Mystíria
If you read Ómîros (Homer, Ὅμηρος) and Isíodos (Hesiod, Ἡσίοδος), to say nothing of all the vast mythology found in ancient literature, you will discover numerous stories which depict the Gods as larger and more powerful versions of human beings, entities of great anger, jealousy, intemperance, injustice, even foolishness and sometimes cowardice, fighting amongst each other and exacting cruel punishments on humans for what seem to be minor infractions. Any logical person can see that beings which behave in these ways cannot be worthy of worship; indeed, they cannot rationally even be called Gods.
εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὔκ εἰσιν θεοί
“If the gods do things shameful, they are not Gods.” (trans. by the author)
(ἀπόσπασμα 294 Εὐριπίδου)
And these stories are often fantastic and impossible for a mature person to believe. The understanding of the myths promoted by this author is that found in the Mystíria (Mysteries, Μυστήρια), teachings of the deepest meaning of the ancient religion, which sees the mythology as allegorical. These stories are not meant to be taken literally but are, rather, vehicles which conceal great truths locked by keys. The position of the Mystíria (and other ways of interpreting myth) is the only reasonable way for an adult to understand the mythology as part of the religion. To accept the myths literally would make the ancient religion absurd. Obviously, in ancient times there were simple people who believed the myths literally, yet there were others who had a more sophisticated understanding, and this sophisticated understanding has sustained to modern times. The lists of characteristics of the Gods found later in this essay are the result of the author's limited understanding of what he has been taught.
Belief in Gods and atheism
It is entirely legitimate for any reader to ask, "How can you, the author of this essay, know these things about the Gods, ideas which cannot be proved and about which there is the utmost disagreement." All of these views concerning deity are what is called akoí (akoê, ἀκοή), a word which simply means "things heard." Akoí is the tradition which has been passed down, in this case, the traditional ideas concerning the Gods. Certainly these ideas are inspired, but this author only has a hint as to their actual meaning, for we are all mortal and our understanding is limited. And for someone who is looking for proof in the existence of a God or Gods, you will not find any such thing here. This author spent the greater part of his 68 years as an agnostic, almost atheist. There is no proof that will convince anyone of the existence of deity. It is my belief that when it is necessary and beneficial for an individual to believe in Gods, the Gods themselves will reveal themselves.
The Gods are many
The view concerning deity in Ællînismόs is genuinely polytheistic. There are multitudes of Gods. These Gods are not the creation of one god; they are not emanations or aspects of one god. The Gods manifest their existence through the interaction of the two kozmogonic material substances as expounded in the teachings of the great Thæológos (Theologian, Θεολόγος) Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς). In later philosophical developments in ancient Greece, ideas emerged which approach monotheism, ideas which largely originate in the teachings of Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων), that the Gods, indeed everything, emanates from a simple principle they refer to as the One; this idea is not held by the author of this essay nor by his teacher.
Impersonal and Personal Gods
The first distinction that must be made regarding the Gods is the differentiation between impersonal and personal deities. The impersonal deities are divine but they do not "hear your prayers," so to speak; they have no consciousness. The personal Gods have consciousness. They are aware of us and respond to us. The personal deities include the Olympian Gods, Ækátî (Hekatê, Εκάτη), Thǽmis (Themis, Θέμις), Aristaios (Aristaeus, Ἀρισταῖος), and hosts of other deities of all kinds. The personal Gods exemplify the qualities of the impersonal deities but they also have awareness, sensibility, and a great ability to communicate, if it is useful for them to do so. The personal Gods are true Gods; they are not merely personified ideas. They exist as independent entities which possess immense awareness and a sublime sensitivity.
Physical manifestations of the Kózmos are Deity
The universe is sacred and its manifestations are Gods. Such manifestations include the Natural Laws, Ílios (Helios or the Sun, Ἥλιος), Sælínî (Selênê or the Moon, Σελήνη), Ástrôn (Stars, Ἄστρων), Thálassa (the Sea, Θάλασσα), Næphǽlai (Nephelae or the Clouds, Νεφέλαι), Ióhs (Iôs or Dawn, Ἠώς), Óneiri (Oneiroi or Dreams, Ὄνειροι), Ýpnos (Hypnos or Sleep, Ὕπνος), Nǽmæsis (Nemesis, Νέμεσις), Vorǽas (Boreas or the North Wind, Βορέας), Nótos (the South Wind, Νότος), Zǽphyros (Zephyrus or the West Wind, Ζέφυρος), Ôkæanós (Ôceanus, Ὠκεανός), Thálassa (the Sea, Θάλασσα), Óhrai (Horae or the Seasons, Ὧραι), Týkhî (Tychê or Fortune, Τύχη), and all such phenomenon of Phýsis (Nature, Φύσις). Some of these are depicted in mythology as being personal deities, but it is difficult to distinguish if the depiction is poetic or actual.
Abstract Ideas of great majesty are deity
More impersonal Gods are the mighty concepts such as Arætí (Aretê or Virtue, Ἀρετή) with it four principal manifestations: Courage (Andreia, Ἀνδρεία), Temperance (Sohphrosýni, Σωφροσύνη), Justice (Dikaiosýni, Δικαιοσύνη), and Wisdom (Sophía, Σοφία). Along with those four we have myriad elevated principles such as Compassion (Ἔλεος), Syneidisis (Syneidesis or Conscience, Συνείδησις), Ælefthæría (Eleutheria or Freedom, Ἐλευθερία), and Law (Νόμος).
The Personal Gods are Generated Beings
In Ællinismόs, we have a way of discussing the origin of the Thæí (Theoi, Θεοί), the Gods; various ancient authors have given us a description of their origin. Such a description is called a thæogonía (theogony, θεογονία). The most important to our tradition is the theogony of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς) which may be read on this page: Orphic Theogony. The more familiar rendering of the story is that of Isíodos (Hesiod, Ἡσίοδος). Still yet we have the description of the formation of the Kózmos (Cosmos, Κόσμος) found in the Tímaios (Timaeus, Τίμαιος) of Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων). While there are many other ancient thæogonies, these three are the most commonly referred to and they must be regarded as foundational, particularly for those who worship the Gods. Amongst other things, these three thæogonies have this in common: they describe a universe in which Gods are generated, this in contrast to a universe which was created by a God or Gods who have always existed. There is no one God who existed for all time and who, in turn, created the Kózmos and then the other Gods, but rather, these thæogonies describe a process by which the Gods came about through natural processes of Nature. The Gods arose and became what they are, and they also continue to progress, for something which does not change is logically impossible or simply an idea or a principle, but the personal Gods are not merely ideas or principles; they are real, living beings.
The Gods are sovereign and form a hierarchy ruled by Zefs and Íra
According to Orphéfs, the Blessed Deathless Gods arose out of the primordial principle due to the interaction of the two basic kozmogonic substances, something which occurred because of Anángkî (Anangkê, Ἀνάγκη), , Necessity. From this, the Six Kings emerged resulting in the establishment of the rule of mighty Zefs (Ζεύς), king of Gods and men forever and ever, and his illustrious queen Íra (Hera, Ἥρᾱ), who is his equal, flanked by the majestic Olympian Gods and the hosts of glorious divinities. Zefs and Íra are true Gods, powerful and at the utmost elevation, as are all the deities. The capacity and power of the Gods is so tremendous that it can be said to be, in a way, terrible, as awesome as the most harrowing acts of Nature.
The Gods are not immaterial
The Gods, along with everything else in the universe, arose from the interaction of the two basic kozmogonic materials: Earth and Water. They themselves consist of Earth and Water, which is material substance. There is no immaterial "spiritual" realm in which they live. The Gods as well as everything else in the Kózmos consist of matter.
The personal Gods are not immutable
The only possible deities which are immutable (unchanging) are the impersonal or abstract concepts, ideas such as Justice and Freedom, forms as identified in the dialogues of Plátôn. It is illogical to think of the personal Gods as unchanging. The great Gods, deities such as the Titánæs (Titans; Gr. Τιτᾶνες) and the Olympians, arose from Earth and Water and through eons of time progressed to become the mighty beings which they are, worthy of worship by their nature and accomplishments. They also continue to progress and become greater. A sentient being which does not change is not possible; a sentient being which does not change is...dead.
The question of omnipresence
While the Gods in general are not omnipresent, it appears that Zefs (Ζεύς) possesses this quality:
...οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν
αὐδὴ οὔδ' ἐνοπὴ οὐδὲ ϰτύπος οὐδὲ μὲν ὄσσα,
ἣ λήθει Διὸς οὖας ὑπερμενέος Κρονίωνος. (Orphic frag. 168, lines 19 and 20)
"Nothing which is, no word nor cry nor noise nor voice,
escapes the ear of the mightiest son of Krónos." (trans. by the author)
The Gods are immortal
We, and all beings, have souls which are immortal, but we are subject to the cycle of birth and death; thus, despite the persistence of our souls, we are called vrotós (brotos, βροτός), mortal. Ómiros (Homer, Ὅμηρος) in Iliás (The Iliad, Ιλιάς) compares us to the leaves of trees:
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ᾽ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ᾽ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ᾽ ἐπιγίγνεται ὥρη:
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει ἣ δ᾽ ἀπολήγει.
“Men come and go as leaves year by year upon the trees. Those of autumn the wind sheds upon the ground, but when spring returns the forest buds forth with fresh vines. Even so is it with the generations of mankind, the new spring up as the old are passing away.”
(Ἰλιὰς Ὁμήρου 6.146-150, trans. Samuel Butler, 1898.)
The Gods, on the other hand, have transcended the cycle of births and deaths (palingænæsía, παλιγγενεσία), reaching the end of the circle (κύκλου λήξαι) for which they are known to be Athánatos (Ἀθάνατος), Deathless or Immortal, yet we share something significant with them:
“One is the race of men, one is the race of Gods, and from one Mother do we both derive our breath; yet a power that is wholly sundered parteth us, in that the one is naught, while for the other the brazen heaven endureth as an abode unshaken for evermore. Albeit, we mortals have some likeness, either in might of mind or at least in our nature, to the immortals, although we know not by what course, whether by day, nor yet in the night watches, fate hath ordained that we should run.”
(Νεμεόνικαι Πινδάρου 6.1-11, trans. Sir John Sandys, 1915)
The Gods are beings of great enlightenment and they are in harmony with each other
In the mythology, the Gods are sometimes depicted with human attributes, with hatred and jealousy and lust and other mortal failings, but these qualities are used for storytelling and poetic effect. If you interpret these stories literally, you will have a distorted view of deity which was not intended. There is great truth in the myths, but their understanding must be uncovered, because their wisdom is hidden from the profane.
In truth, the Gods are beings of enormous enlightenment. There is nothing dark, evil, or petty in them. They are Gods because of this enlightenment. A being who is petty and trite, who has little understanding, and who is the victim of mundane passions and hatreds cannot be a God. It is impossible. The Gods have an understanding of the natural world that surpasses anything we can fathom, and their understanding of us is immensely greater than our own understanding of ourselves.
Furthermore, the Gods are never malicious. There are no Gods of darkness, even the Goddess Nyx. She is called Night and is associated with darkness, not because she is wicked or mean-spirited, but rather because she cannot be understood by the mortal mind, she exists in a field which has yet to be revealed, hidden from us as though enveloped in the darkness of night. For similar reasons the Goddess Ækátî (Hecatê, Ἑκάτη) is also associated with night, but there is nothing dark or evil in her, to the contrary, like all the Gods, she is immensely enlightened and well-meaning and she is said to hold the hands of the suppliants on their journey to virtue.
And finally, the Gods are in harmony both with themselves and with each other. In mythology, we see the Gods depicted as quarreling amongst one another, but this is not correct. Sometimes these stories are told for poetic effect, at other times, there is a meaning to the "quarreling" in that natural forces represented by Gods come into conflict, or so it would seem to us. But concerning the Gods relationship with each other, their character is consistent with the eighth natural law: Armonía (Ἁρμονία); they are in harmony.
The Gods are free
Not only are the Gods in a state of Harmony, they also possess Ælefthæría (Eleutheria, Ἐλευθερία), they exist in a state of Freedom, hence the oft-repeated phrase: The Gods live in freedom and desire this freedom for all, therefore, they never violate our freedom nor do they impose their will. And it is further said that it is wise for mortals to imitate the Gods and that, therefore, we should not impose our will on others and deny them their freedom.
The nature of the Gods is good
The Gods are the source of all that is good, such that we can speak of the goodness of the Gods, as elucidated here by the philosopher Iámvlikhos (Iamblichus, Ἰάμβλιχος):
"For it is absurd to search for good in any direction other than from the Gods. Those who do so resemble a man who, in a country governed by a king, should do honor to one of his fellow-citizens who is a magistrate, while neglecting him who is the ruler of them all. Indeed, this is what the Pythagoreans thought of people who searched for good elsewhere than from God. For since He exists as the lord of all things, it must be self-evident that good must be requested of Him alone."
(Ιαμβλίχου Χαλκιδέως περί βίου Πυθαγορικού λόγος 18, trans. Thomas Taylor in 1818)
This goodness of Gods applies not only to the personal Gods, but to the natural state of the Kózmos, which is divine, the physical manifestations of the universe. The Kózmos is in a state of balance, which is defined as "good." While manifestations such as earthquakes, violent storms, and typhoons may cause great suffering, they are devoid of "evil" intentions, but, rather, are manifestations of nature achieving balance. Good and evil are actually a matter of the perspective of the short-sightedness on the part of mortals. Goodness, from this point of view, is this natural state of balance in the universe.
The personal Gods, on the other hand, while having governance over these processes, have an interest in the progress of beings, a progress which is also part of the natural manifestation of the Kózmos. Because their vast understanding is manifest, the Blessed Gods emanate transcendent (exceptional) qualities such as wisdom, justice, temperance, and fortitude; these, of course, are the Four Boniform Virtues, which means that the Gods are virtuous. Their virtue is vastly superior to that of human beings and is the achievement of eons of personal effort. Virtue is possible only when there is the potentiality of change, which is one of many reasons why it is not possible that any God is immutable.
The Gods are compassionate
Orphic theogony explains how Zefs (Ζεύς) created a race of beings, as perfect as is possible constrained by natural laws, with immortal souls but with bodies subject to pain, suffering, illness, and death, only to be reborn again and endure more difficulties. While the creatures experience much beauty in their lives, they are chained to this cycle of births and deaths, a cycle which is painful. But in his unimaginable wisdom Zefs conceived a plan to alleviate us from our troubles, for he has compassion for his creatures; he has conceived a son, Diónysos (Dionysus, Διόνυσος), who with his Mysteries frees us from the vicious cycle of births. This is the providence of Zefs, and all the Gods, particularly the Olympians, participate in it, for they share his empathy for all sentient beings and have a concern for our progress. Likewise, it is the advice of the greatest of minds that we should imitate the Gods; therefore, compassion for others is paramount to the practice of our religion.
Ǽrohs is the cause of communication with Gods
The Gods are highly progressed beings of great purity, while we are not so progressed and in a profane state, so how, therefore, can we communicate with the Gods? Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων) particularly identifies Ǽrôs (Eros, Ἔρως) as most responsible for communication with Gods:
“ ‘He (Ἔρως) interprets,’ she (Diotíma of Mantíneia) replied, ‘between Gods and men, conveying and taking across to the Gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the Gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love all the intercourse and converse of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on.’ ”
(Συμπόσιον Πλάτωνος 202d-203a, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892)
And what is Ǽrôs? There is the mundane ǽrôs involved in the physical union of creatures, but here we are not so much speaking of this sexual attraction. The power of Ǽrôs may begin in that way, however; its genesis occurs when we discover beauty and desire that beauty. If we remain faithful to the desire for beauty and are not side-tracked by the mundane, as our souls progress, we will discover a more sublime beauty. And when we are capable of catching a glimpse of divinity, Ǽrohs becomes much greater. This Ǽrôs is the invitation we send to the Gods when we perceive their purity and majesty and become enamored of them, for to recognize their beauty is to desire them, and to desire them is to give them permission to become a part of our lives, for the Gods never violate our freedom and they have awaited our invitation for a very long time. Ǽrôs is a power, an agent and a vehicle, which is perceived by the Gods. We move closer to them and they engulf us in a magnificent interchange, the beautiful dance which is our religion.
Because the Gods are material, we can sense them
All sentient beings, whether mortal or divine, consist of the two kosmogonic substances. Everything is material; the idea of the super-natural, something above and separate from nature, is false. Nature is everything and everything is material. The Gods are material and mortals are material. Because of this, we share in the nature of the Gods. Because they are material, we can sense them, we can feel them. This is how people come to believe in Gods but are unable to explain precisely why.
How can we feel the Gods? How can this be accomplished? We can feel the Gods through the veils of Aithír which surround the body. It is through the Aithír that we communicate with what is outside of our body. The Aithír is also material.
There is a wall which is built up and which protects us from the "other." This wall is not the aithireal garments; it is a protective mechanism which we create. This wall functions opposite to that of the aithireal garments, which opens communication with the outside. This wall, in opposition to the aithirial garments, cuts off communication with that which is outside. To feel the Gods, we must drop this wall. It is this wall which creates the illusion of ego. It also protects us, protects us from feeling others. Therefore, it is dangerous to leave ourselves defenseless, as we can get very hurt, and this damage is distinctly real. And such an act can greatly disturb our lives, for when the wall goes down we see the other people and the other creatures; we feel them and want to help. It is the same ability which we all possess, to drop the wall and hear the crying voices of our fellows, for it is the very same wall which prevents us from feeling the Gods, which prevents us from feeling the divine by means of the Aithír, to sense and feel the Gods. When the wall begins to drop, we are then capable of glimpsing the divine, and to be overwhelmed by such beauty; and the Ǽrohs begins to flow back and forth between your soul and the souls of the Gods.
For a more detailed explanation of this idea, please visit this page: Experiencing Gods.
The Gods appear in dreams
In the extremely rare circumstance in which a God wishes to make his presence known, such an appearance (ἐπιφάνεια) will most likely occur in a dream or in the space between dreams and waking. Perhaps the use of dreams by the Gods keeps the worshiper unsure of what exactly has happened and reduces the possibility of bolstering one's self-importance. Such experiences only occur if they are necessary. Many people desire an epiphany to vanquish lingering fears that the Gods may not actually exist, but the Gods do not need for us to believe in them and an individual's progress is not dependent on belief. Some people want an "experience," something powerful to draw upon, but the Gods are not entertainment and they do not respond to anything that smells of "magic," that by performing certain rituals one could force their appearance. Therefore, we are stuck with ourselves. Either we can sense the beauty of divinity, the beauty of the Orphic ideas, the beauty of the call to develop virtue....or not, and we act accordingly.
We do not know the appearance of the Gods
In our religion, we have many statues of Gods. These statues always depict the Gods as beautiful humans, but, in fact we do not know their actual appearance. It is said that they will sometimes assume a human shape, for reasons of their own. The Gods are found in the mythology to disguise themselves, sometimes as humans, sometimes as animals, and sometimes even as what would normally be considered inanimate things. In the Odýsseia (Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια) of Ómiros (Homer, Ὅμηρος), the Goddess Athîná (Athêna, Ἀθηνᾶ) often appears in the form of someone else, most frequently Mǽntôr (Mentôr, Μέντωρ). Zefs (Ζεύς) appeared as a swan to Lída (Lêda, Λήδα), as an eagle to Ganymídîs (Ganymêdê, Γανυμήδης), and as a shower of gold to Danáï (Danaë, Δανάη). Ærmís (Hermês, Ἑρμῆς) disguised himself as a Kýklohps (Cyclops, Κύκλωψ) (Ίαμβος ἀπόσπασμα 12 Καλλιμάχου). And there are many other examples.
Whether these stories are symbolic or simply added to embellish the narrative, there is a custom of always treating other people with kindness, for fear that you may actually be speaking to a God. This is a humanizing observance which functions conjointly with the hospitality (ξενία) promulgated by Hellenic tradition.
The Gods have names
The Gods refer to themselves by names which are unknown to us, as Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων) says in the Kratýlos (Cratylus, Κρατύλος):
"Yes, indeed, Hermogenes; and there is one excellent principle which, as men of sense, we must acknowledge, --- that of the Gods we know nothing, either of their natures or of the names which they give themselves; but we are sure that the names by which they call themselves, whatever they may be, are true. And this is the best of all principles; and the next best is to say, as in prayers, that we will call them by any sort or kind of names or patronymics which they like, because we do not know of any other. That also, I think, is a very good custom, and one which I should much wish to observe. Let us, then, if you please, in the first place announce to them that we are not enquiring about them; we do not presume that we are able to do so; but we are enquiring about the meaning of men in giving them these names, --- in this there can be small blame."
(Κρατύλος Πλάτωνος 400d-401a, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892)
Nonetheless, we call them by names which are of great antiquity and are known to the Gods themselves. Therefore, these names are also sacred and they should not be spoken frivolously, and any conversation regarding them should reflect the greatest reverence; they should be spoken and written rarely, and when used, we should be exceedingly careful in how their names are placed in any sentence. We have obtained these names of the Gods, the names used by the mortals, from the great thæolóyi (theologians, θεολόγοι) Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς) and Isíodos (Hesiod, Ἡσίοδος), who were divinely inspired.
Syncretism with other pantheons of deities is thus inevitable
If it is true, as stated above, that the Gods have names for themselves which differ from those we have given them, then it is only logical that mankind, with different languages in different lands, has names for deities which differ from the names that we use for the very same Gods. A God who has the same functions in other pantheons of deities is likely the same deity but known by another name in a different country, as Plutarch says:
"Not different [Gods] for different peoples, not non-Greek and Greek, not southern and northern [Gods]; but just as sun and moon and earth and sea [are] common to all [men], though they are called by different names by different peoples, so of the Reason (Logos) that orders all things, and of one Providence that also directs powers ordained to serve under her for all [purposes], have different honours and titles been made according to their laws by different [nations]."
(Ἠθικὰ Πλουτάρχου· 26.67.2 Περὶ Ἴσιδος καὶ Ὀσίριδος, trans. G. R. S. Mean, 1906)
Even in Greece itself, most of the Gods were known by several if not hundreds of names and epithets.
The personal Gods are not the physical objects associated with them
As described above, manifestations of Nature and the Mighty Concepts are sacred. Personal deities, while having deep associations with these manifestations, are distinct from them and are not merely anthropomorphisms. For instance, Zefs (Ζεύς) may have dominion over thunder, yet he is independent from thunder and is a real and animate conscious entity. Similar statements can be decisively made concerning all the personal Gods, as is said by Plutarch:
“...they should take very good heed and be apprehensive lest unwittingly they write-off the sacred Mysteries and dissolve them into winds and streams, and sowing and ploughings, and passions of earth and changes of seasons.
“As those who [say] that Dionysus is wine and Hephæstus flame, and Persephone, as Cleanthes says somewhere, the wind that drives through the crops and is killed; and [as] some poet says of the reapers:
‘Then when they, lusty, cut Demeter’s limbs.’
“For these in nothing differ from those who regard a pilot as sails and ropes and anchor, and a weaver as yarns and threads, and a physician as potions and honey-brew and barley-water; nay, they put into men’s minds dangerous and atheistic notions, by transferring names of Gods to natures and to things that have no sense or soul, and which are necessarily destroyed by men according to their need and use. For it is not possible to consider such things in themselves as Gods.
“For a God is not a thing without a mind or soul, or one made subject to the hand of man; but it is from these things that we deduce that those who bestow them on us for our use and offer them [to us] in perpetual abundance, are Gods.”
(Ἠθικὰ Πλουτάρχου· 26.66.3 - 26.67.1 Περὶ Ἴσιδος καὶ Ὀσίριδος), trans. G. R. S. Mead, 1906)
The jealousy of the Gods
In some ancient literature, it is said that the Gods are “jealous;” the Greek is phthónos Thæóhn (ϕθόνος Θεών). Phthónos means envy or jealousy over the good fortune of others.
In the Istoríai (Histories, Ἱστορίαι) of Iródotos (Herodotus, Ἡρόδοτος) at 1.32.1, the Athenian sage Sólôn (Solon, Σόλων) replies to Krísos (Croesus; Κροῖσος), the phenomenally wealthy king of Lydia, regarding the happiness of mankind, saying that the Gods are entirely stingy and troublesome to us.
Later, at 3.40-43, we find the story of Polykrátîs (Polycratês, Πολυκράτης), the tyrant of Sámos (Σάμος), who was so lucky that even when he threw his precious golden ring into the ocean, as he had been advised to do by his confidant Amásis (Αμάσις) in order to even out the balance of his fortune, a local fisherman caught a fish and gave it to the king as a gift, only for the cooks to discover the ring inside. When Amásis got news that the ring was retrieved in this way, he severed relations with Polykrátis for fear that he would become entangled in the king's fate when his fortune was reversed.
Therefore, the “jealously” of the Gods is not envy of the good fortune of mortals, an emotion impossible for deity, but is connected with our perception of the world. Sólôn says that the Gods are troublesome to us in this regard, but this is poetic description of the confrontation we experience when fortunes change for the worse. Nonetheless, there is some truth that deity is involved with these fluctuations and reversals of fortune. The Olympian Gods have dominion over Natural Law; they oversee the harmonic concordance of the Kózmos (Cosmos, Κόσμος), but their intentions are never malevolent, for malevolent intentions are small and petty, inconceivable for beings of such wisdom and majesty, but it could be perceived that way by mortals, as though the Gods were meddling in our lives out of jealousy. The Gods maintain the natural balance of the Kózmos; they are also interested in the progress and the well-being of mortals, but they do not intervene in our lives in order to spoil us or obstruct us, but, rather, to build our natural resources from within the soul.
When we try to force our will on life, the world resists our interference; this is often perceived as though life is preventing you from achieving happiness, i.e. as though the Gods are jealous; in reality, these are impersonal natural forces which reveal the humble nature which we actually possess, and this natural process of being forced to confront one's mortality is divine; thus there is truth in the saying.
The Gods do not need our offerings
The Gods are complete in themselves and require no offerings from mortals. The Gods are not petty, therefore, they do not punish humans who fail to honor them. Even when we pray for gifts from the Gods, our offerings are not compensation for what we receive. Yet, we do indeed give offerings and such offerings are a great tradition in our religion. Why? The genuine offering is symbolic of Ǽrôs (Erôs, Ἔρως); it is not based on quid pro quo, but it is, rather, a natural flowing back and forth between Gods and men. This is the true reciprocity of our religion; it is not "give and take." What happens with the genuine offering is much larger than “give and take.” Indeed, it is this Ǽrôs which is the basis of true interaction with the Gods.
The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.
Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.
How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.
The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology , the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation .
The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.
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