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Ár nDraíocht Féin
Three Cranes
Chaos Matrix

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

(14 comments Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 5th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
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.
[User Picture]
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:53 am (UTC)
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?
[User Picture]
Date:July 6th, 2011 04:04 am (UTC)
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.
[User Picture]
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:53 pm (UTC)
*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.
[User Picture]
Date:July 6th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
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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