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July 5th, 2011


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03:48 pm - Of Gods and Humans: A Comparison
Continuing thoughts spawned from an article on sacrifice (called, appropriately enough, "'Sacrifice' in Proto-Indo-European,") by Stefan Zimmer in last year's Journal of Indo-European Studies. . .

In Indo-European polytheism, there are really only two differences between deities and humans. As with the living fire and the flowing waters mentioned before, these two key differences can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European words that describe humans and the divine differently:

Humans Deities
Location *dhghmónio- - "Terrestrial" *deiuó- - "Celestial"
Relation to Death *mrtó- - "Affected by Death" *n-mrto- - "Not Affected by Death"


In the most simple conception of the difference between diety and human is that we humans are terrestrial things, living here on the earth and rarely rising above it, and deities are celestial things, living their lives in the heavens (primarily), or in spheres not our own. In addition, while we humans are clearly affected by death, deities are not.

It is really only these two things that appear to truly separate us in the minds of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. These beings are not necessarily greater than us in terms of power, nor are they more knowing or wise than we are, strictly speaking. They are, simply put, undying and celestial in nature, whereas we are not. In all other aspects, it appears that we are not much different than the deities we interact with.

With this implication (that there are no other major differences between humans and deities), we can reasonably expect that relationships with these beings will be similar to (if not identical to) the relationships that we have with other humans. Thus, "sacrifice" (reciprocal gift giving) and "veneration" (the showing of love) are one in the same, a PIE word *Hiag-. . . a single term that illustrates both actions as a single action (the use of a single word for both concepts indicates that "sacrifice" and "veneration" are separated primarily for the modern thinker, not for the ancient one).

The most common form of this veneration and sacrifice is the shared meal, a solemn dinner given to the gods. In this meal, the deities are invited in, asked to sit in places prepared for them. They are given food specially prepared for them and served the best drinks. Often, the dinner entertainment is known to have involved praise poems (something I'd like our Grove to get back to one day), and all these favors are returned by the granting of blessings, often in the form of glory, victory, rain, cows, etc.

As we do ritual, we are engaging in this basic format: *ghos-ti-, the guest-host relationship, is at the forefront, and there is an exchange of gifts that occurs, as is proper in human relationships. In the end, veneration leads to prosperity, because those who love one another will also share their wealth and fortunes freely with one another.

Incidentally, this lends some interesting thoughts into why the "death of the gods" appears at the "end of the world" (e.g. Ragnarok, etc.). Why do the gods die in these stories? How is it that individuals "unaffected by death" die? What does this mean in the sheme of mythology? I'm reasonably sure that there's not a grand, perfect answer to these questions, but it seems to me that much of it has to do with the fact that if the world is coming apart, then our assumptions about the reality of these deities must also come apart: those that never died, will die, and those that reside in the heavens must fall to earth.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: busy
Current Music: "God's Own Drunk", -JB

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From:prophet_maid
Date:July 5th, 2011 08:12 pm (UTC)
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Interesting, and I've had rather similar thoughts, especially after reading Artful Universe (I think I'm remembering the title correctly). Yes, humanity and deity are similar, but still the Gods are more skilled than us. Is it something inherent in their nature that makes them more powerful, or is it that we simply haven't bothered to attain the powers of the Gods?
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 5th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
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I think it might be the association with the celestial realm that brings on that additional power. They are associated with the things that control our lives: the sun, which marks our days; the rains, which bring us fertile fields; and the "cosmic order" that defines our lives.

It may very well be that these things naturally fall into their realm of powers, much like tending sheep (which, interestingly, we're always bringing to the sacrificial feast, so that's something we do that they don't) is a terrestrial "power." It might be more that we have different sets of blessings to bestow on one another, and perhaps the exchange isn't as uneven as we have always thought.
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From:drum2heal
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:53 am (UTC)
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I really like that last point about the evenness of exchanging blessings. I think our world has been deprived of any confirmation of personal power for so long that people have just accepted that we don't have any inherent power.

Most of my personal practice is about understanding that as a human we do have gifts unique to our species. Shamans study animals for their magic, why would humans blessed with the gift of ritual not have any inherent powers as well?
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From:prophet_maid
Date:July 6th, 2011 04:04 am (UTC)
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I too like that idea, and it jives with my UPG. In every encounter with a God that I've had, they've approached me as a peer, not as a servant. I wasn't sure what to make of that.
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:53 pm (UTC)
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*nods* I, too, have had very "down to earth" experiences with deity. It is somewhat clear to me that this is because they enjoy approaching us as peers. . . After all, those "different gifts" we were talking about certainly give them the option of appearing as a master to a servant.
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
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I tend to think that one of the hallmarks of our ritual work as humans must be (and as Druids, it certainly is) a balance of personal power and personal responsibility. The work we do reflects that we are spiritual beings and that our work has meaning within the cosmos.
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From:wcm
Date:July 5th, 2011 09:11 pm (UTC)
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Interesting post. I've often wondered about Gods dying in myths and what that really means... It's difficult to wrap my mind around at times.

What you say about Gods being similar to us in other ways makes sense. I do see the Gods as, generally, being more powerful than us in terms of their understanding of creative and destructive forces (magic). That doesn't necessarily mean humans can't reach their level, but the Gods, undying, have more than enough time to master the arts without interruption. They learn and master what we don't have time for.

Peace,
Grey Catsidhe
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 5th, 2011 10:27 pm (UTC)
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Indeed, a deity of smithcraft who has been practicing for more than the normal lifespan of a human might be a pretty darn good smith, now that you mention it. :) It might also explain why they tend to be good at multiple things :)
(Deleted comment)
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:58 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I think that the window washer is an apt observation. An interesting thing: the reason that Greek daimônes were thought to be able to aid in divination is because they could fly; they weren't provided any special "power of sight," but they could get to a place really fast, see what was going on, and then report back.

Btw, and completely off-topic, have you ever read Philip K. Dick's novel, Eye In the Sky? I think you might enjoy it.
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From:fionnabhar
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:06 pm (UTC)
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The weirdest shift for me (from the Christian model) was dealing with a patron who is not omniscient. I casually mention childhood abuse in prayer one time, and all of a sudden he's storming around the place about to kill to something. I'm all, why the tirade, that's old news! He's all, not to me it isn't! Why didn't you tell me that sooner?

Oh. Right. *facepalm*
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From:chronarchy
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:50 pm (UTC)
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Indeed. You gotta tell them what's up :) After all, the Greeks could sail for Troy because Poseidon was "Away in Ethiopia" and thus unable to be aware of what was going on, if I remember right.
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From:kargach
Date:July 6th, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)
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Close - At the beginning of the Odyssey, Athena tells Zeus that, because Poseidon is in Ethiopia attending their festival for him, that now is the only safe time for Odysseus to leave Calypso's island. A great primary source to cite when people think the ancients thought the gods were omniscient!
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From:Santiago Fernndez
Date:August 31st, 2011 03:53 am (UTC)
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Although there were many who were. Raffaele Pettazzoni treats the subject in his book "The All-Knowing God" (which has aged quite well, in my opinion)
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From:Santiago Fernndez
Date:August 29th, 2011 07:17 pm (UTC)
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Hmmm... Given that gods (at least many of them)are in part personifications of the natural world, they are bound to die when the world itself dies (and is usually subsequently renewed). This is, of course, unless it's a god (usually a Sky God) that orders the destruction of the world. Mircea Eliade wrote a great deal about this subject

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