Monday, July 6, 2009

Chthonic Deities

Today in my mythology class we were talking about Hades' snatching of Persephone (that's what the word "rape" literally means, especially in this case) and all that, then started talking a bit about Apollo and his origins and how he killed the giant snakey dragon at Delphi (aka Pythos...because Pythos means "to rot," which is what the dragon snake did after Apollo killed her-- and I think where we get the word Python? A corruption of the origin?). Anyway, a few of the gods/goddesses in the Greek pantheon were older, pre-Hellenic gods worshiped by the people that lived in Greece before the Dorians and whoever else came down from the slavic areas and brought their sky gods. These pre-Hellenic gods were earth gods/goddesses, or chthonic deities, like Hades being the god of the underworld and stuff. The word chthonic has to do with coming from the earth and going back into it (life, death, rebirth, etc). Things associated with chthonic worship were the color black (because it's dark under ground-- the sacrifices to chthonic deities were a little different in that they sacrificed black sheep/goats/whatever and that they didn't burn them to let the smoke rise to the sky, but let the blood dribble down into the ground) and snakes. Why snakes? There are two reasons. First of all, it's because they slide along the ground and thus have a very close relationship with it. Secondly, it's because they symbolize the life cycle with birth, death, and rebirth whenever they shed their skin. Anyway, so if you see a snake in mythological art, it's representing fertility or life and probably not something sinister. Unless it's the snakey dragon thing I mentioned earlier.
See the snake wrapped around the chest of Hades' dog? A chthonic symbol.

Remember this lady? She's a fertility goddess. And look what she's holding! Snakes. There's also a cat on her head, but I don't think anybody knows why that's there.

This is actually a statue of Asklepios, Apollo's son, who is the god of medicine, and where we get our modern symbol of the snake on the staff...actually you could also see that as the Moses/Israel story...but it's also called a caduceus, which is what the winged staff Hermes carried around was called (but had no snake), so I guess some people got really confused somewhere and combined like 3 different stories. Anyway, the point of the pictures is to show you a snake in Greek art. The end.

But the point of me telling you all this is that my teacher, because this class is at a church school, compared (as he usually does-- and let me tell you it's a little weird to hear "Brother Hephaistos" and "Sister Aphrodite") what we were talking about to Christianity. Do you all remember the story in the Old Testament of the Israelites in the wilderness being attacked by the poisonous snakes?
Look and live-- a chthonic symbol?

And Moses but a brass serpent up on a staff and all the bitten Israelites had to do was look at it and they would be cured? And how that snake represented Christ? And you were always told that the reason it represented Christ was because if you look to Christ in no matter the situation you can be saved? Well, that's all true, but could it also be that Christ is also a chthonic deity? A chthonic deity portrayed as a snake. Because Christ was born, died, and was "reborn" (resurrected), he fits the motif. And remember how Satan came to Eve as a snake in the Garden of Eden? Well it's because he was posing as Christ. It's not because snakes are evil. Or something.
Anyway, obviously none of this is doctrine, and I hope I haven't muddled what I was trying to say or rocked anyone's religious boat, but it is all very interesting, don't you think?
In other news, I'm planning on making this recipe this weekend and I'm pretty excited for it.
Also, this song is pretty, so you should listen to it:

Claustrophobe - Katie Todd


LP said...

Extremely interesting! I think I agree with the part about the snake in the Garden of Eden. It makes sense. Also, the recipe you're going to make looks delicious. Canst save some for me, puz? Or make it again?

Jared and Megan said...

I think I might agree with the part about the Garden of Eden, too, esp. since the bible comes from... well now I can't remember, does it come from the Greek one, the Hebrew one or both?
Also, I can haz treetz?

Jared and Megan said...

also, I can't believe HBP is in a week! already!