Monday, November 21, 2005

ARE THERE ANY GOOD gods?

A few days ago, a reader emailed me about the Headline at the top of this blog: “Male gods are dangerous, to men as well as women. Female deities are role models for unconditional love.”

He said he thought these observations arbitrary. “How is Kali a role model for unconditional love?” He asked. “How is Baldur dangerous? And what about Artemis, who is ambivalent, what about Hermes, who is mischievous, but generally helpful to both men and women?”

Lately, I’ve opened up a sliver to the notion that some gods might be good. What I can’t abide, however, is a mean god on top (Zeus; Odin), and swarms of little goddesses and gods pressed under his thumb. And I don’t know any Goddess/god pantheons not built this way. It’s always Big-Daddy god sitting on his throne, and little girl and boy gods sitting in a ring around Daddy’s feet. The little girl gods are waiting to be raped (see my Oct. 11th post for info on the appetites of Zeus), and the little boy gods are waiting to die in Daddy’s wars. Absolutetly stunning reinforcement for the Patriarchy.

But am I wrong? Can someone name a pantheon minus domination & hierarchy? Greek? No. Roman? No. Germanic? No. Tuetonic? No. Russian? No. Hindu? Goddess forbid! Egyptian? I don’t think so…. Celtic? Maybe, in certain times and places. Iroquois? Any African? Mosuo?

As for Kali, I suspect she was a patriarchal makeover – more on this in a later post.

21 comments:

Lisa said...

Disagreeable goddesses always seem to be "patriarchal makeovers" instead of bitches with the right to be bitches. If female deity is icky acting, there seems to be a feminist reflex to explain why she is not nurturing and lovey-- ironically, just the way "patriarchy" has defined femininity. Why the hell are feminists apologizing for this? Nature based paths realize that nature has elements of destruction and devastation in order for newness to appear, so why are we apologizing away our female deities that encompass that role?

For some reason, only gods have the right to be bitches, organically? That's the way of thinking that makes "matriarchy" look like "patriarchy in a skirt," by arbitrarily demonizing those in official power by a simple-minded role reversal. (God in power with Goddess demonized, bad. Goddess in power and God demonized, good? That's a little silly.)

Also, what if gods were also made over by the "patriarchy?" I don't think I've heard that argument made too often by feminists.

Morgaine said...

Suffice it to say that all Western mythology has been made over in the form of patriarchy, male and female deities alike. There have been dominant female, subordinate male divine couples - Morgaine and Arthur, Isis and Osiris, Aphrodite and Dionysus are my favorites- but their myths have been perverted and watered down to the point that they are unrecognizable. The Celts skipped the boy/girl thing, having a Mother Diana and a daughter Aradia/Kore as the divine couple. They were always brother/sister or mother/son pairs - sometimes both - but the trouble begins when big daddy takes over the pantheon.

I don't personally think that all male gods are bad - but I think patriarchy always is and male father gods have been designed to reinforce patriarchal values. You have to really dig to get to the source of it, even with some feminist texts.

Kali is a destroyer, as is Fata Morgana, Oya, Baba Yaga, to name a few. She who cannot hex cannot heal. You have to clear a field to plow. Death sustains life. The Goddess is everything - good and bad, birth and death, the totality of experience and possibility. Everything that exists is a part of Her. The problem we have right now is severe disharmony - we have to get back in harmony with Her or she'll have no choice but to get rid of us. The evils of the world - hate, murder, greed, torture, war - all originate in abuse of free will, repression of desires, and a false sense of isolation.

We don't just need to remember Goddess, we need to re-member her by recognizing and honoring our place within her body.

Whether we need to go to the extreme of no male gods at all for a while is a matter for debate. It's the cleanest way to go, but also the hardest. I don't think we'll be able to do that completely short of some apocalyptic event.

Anti_thesis of Reason said...

Everything has poles, male, female, good, bad; the two poles are a part of the samething, they only differ by degree.

(Look up the Prinicpale of Polarities from the Kybalion)

So by honoring only one half of the whole, you only know half of the truth, thus you are out of balance.

To be in true balance we must acknowledge the whole, both male and female and not just half of the whole.

grendelkhan said...

Thor wasn't atop the Norse pantheon. Odin was. There is a difference. Note that Odin is also a father figure, the "all-father", which ties into your main premise.

Can someone name a pantheon minus domination & hierarchy?

Can someone name a society complex enough that everyone didn't know everyone else face-to-face which wasn't based on domination and hierarchy?

I think you're putting the cart before the horse. We craft gods in our own image; a society that's brutally hierarchical and male-dominated will naturally generate a hierarchical pantheon dominated by big papa Odin/Zeus/Yahweh at the top.

As above, so below, eh?

Lisa said...

I think you're putting the cart before the horse. We craft gods in our own image; a society that's brutally hierarchical and male-dominated will naturally generate a hierarchical pantheon dominated by big papa Odin/Zeus/Yahweh at the top.

As above, so below, eh?


my thoughts exactly

Athana said...

I have had deep reactions to almost every sentence in each of the 4 comments above. Where to begin. grendelkahn, thanks for pointing to my error re: Thor and Odin. I'm going to change my post to reflect your correction.

Yes, I can "...name societies complex enough that everyone didn't know everyone else face-to-face which weren't based on domination and hierarchy." According to much good evidence, the ancient Minoan society is one. And they had a supreme Goddess. I think the ancient Harrapans in the Indus Valley were another. Little hierarchy; primarily Goddess focused is likely. I think "Old Europe" was another (southeastern Europe in the early Bronze Age and before). I think that as time goes on, we'll discover that before about 6000 BC, most of the world was non-hierarchical, peaceful -- and Goddess centered.

anti-thesis, balance is a good thing. Not sure I like the idea of polarity as much, though. I think the West has restricted itself somewhat by the duality/polarity thing.

Morgaine -- any ideas on how one might strip away the patriarchal stuff to get to the real meat?

lisa, your point is a good one: nature is destructive as well as constructive, and maybe out spirituality would do well to reflect that. But I do think both gods and Goddesses were patriarchal makeovers. Athena's a great example. Athena wasn't a war goddess until the patriarchals made her into one. And she wasn't born out of a male head -- until envious patriarchals felt they had to figure out a way for male gods to give birth the way the female deity did.

Anti-thesis of Reason said...

I want to clarify my polarity idea. By poles I mean two extremes that are part of the same thing, not seperate from it. Thus God and Goddess are extremes of a larger whole, without one you cannot have the other, they are not complete without the other, thus with one you only have half the truth. One is not better than the other. It also carries over into the Principale of Correspondence, As above, So below. This is Hermetic Philosophy.

I think this is different in a way from the Western duality view. For example, God and the Devil are seen as seperate entities, black and white. While from the Hermetic point of view they would each be half of the same whole. Hermetic Philisophy asks, where does evil end and good begin? ON a thermometer where does hot end and cold begin?

grendelkhan said...

I think that as time goes on, we'll discover that before about 6000 BC, most of the world was non-hierarchical, peaceful -- and Goddess centered.

You're kidding, right? I suppose my western bias is showing, but we've seen societies where people live much as they did six thousand years ago. If you lived in that fashion, you'd be far more likely to die a violent and early death than you are in a Western one. Yes, even counting wars. "Peaceful"? Methinks you have a rose-tinted view of pre-modern life.

(My facts here are largely drawn from Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.)

ursa said...

The societies you refer to are patriarchal, try the Musuo for a still extant matriarchy; Archaeology indicates that these egalitarian societies were once more numerous.

Also Odin was the chief god of the Aesir the Vanir were the older gods , its arguable that Njord was once a female { in latin Nerthus } and was the cheif diety .

Athana said...

anti_thesis: I see the difference. Then could you also say, "Where does female end and male begin"?

Athana said...

Grendelkhan: No, not kidding. Where to begin. Wasn’t Diamond a biologist? Using geographical theory to write about anthropology, archaeology and history? Have you read some of the recent reviews of his book? Some are pretty devastating. Please, Grendelkhan, read some archaeologists before you tell me I’m wrong about archaeology. And after you do, come to me with a statement from an archaeologist to the effect that humans would be “far more likely to die a violent and early death” six thousand years ago than today. I’ll be waiting for your report! Good luck!

ursa said...

I meant to say above that Njord may have had a patriarchal sex change and was a popular deity, not chief deity. Why do I do These things in a rush, sorry Athana.

Athana said...

ursa: The problem I'm finding with the Mosuo is that there’s so little written about them. There’s one book listed on Amazon, but for over $100. I may need to order it from interlibrary loan. Also: I’d really like to read more about Njord; s/he sound fascinating.

ursa said...

Its a long time since I read the Eddas and learned the futhark but you would love the Norse myths I think. the net has some sources for Njord/Nerthus.
I have ordered a book on the Musuo, not yet arrived. But Athana have you thought you might be the one to go there and write the definitive book on their religious believes before Buddhism takes over completely. I might help in a small way toward funding a project like that.

grendelkhan said...

Wasn’t Diamond a biologist? Using geographical theory to write about anthropology, archaeology and history?

His degree is in "physiology and membrane biophysics"; he currently serves as professor of geography and environmental health services at UCLA, which I suppose qualifies him as a geographer.

Have you read some of the recent reviews of his book? Some are pretty devastating.

Please point me to one which makes your point that life was better for people before the rise of civilization. Of the four reviews linked to from Wikipedia, two (Danny Yee, Steve Sailer) were positive, and two (J. Philippe Rushton, Michael Levin) were negative--because they felt that Diamond had unfairly rejected racism. Both of the latter reviews actually reference craniology. How quaint!

Please, Grendelkhan, read some archaeologists before you tell me I’m wrong about archaeology. And after you do, come to me with a statement from an archaeologist to the effect that humans would be “far more likely to die a violent and early death” six thousand years ago than today. I’ll be waiting for your report! Good luck!

That's a pretty tall order. Can you recommend any titles? Are you disputing the prevalence of early death or violent death? Infant mortality rates were unbelievably high (compared to modern ones) in any estimate I can find, and infections that we'd shrug off today with the help of drugs would have killed our ancestors.

Athana said...

Grendelkahn: go here http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393317552/104-8401988-8011100?v=glance&n=283155&n=507846&s=books&v=glance

Look at the first two reviews, by Chris Smith and Peter Agnew. I'm disputing the incidence of violent death, and signs of violence in general. (You make a good distinction.)

James DeMeo, in Saharasia, 1998, says: "The archaeological and historical evidence shows no clear, unambiguous traces of patrism, anywhere on Earth, before approximately 5000 BCE, and no significant, lasting traces until around 4000 BCE. Only peaceful ... matrist traits can be inferred from the oldest, deepest layers of archaeological matierals." (p. 8).

Morgaine said...

Athana=

I'm going to address this post at The Goddess - your conversation here has raised some important points.

Athana said...

Morgaine, I wish I could get onto The Goddess to see your post, but I'm still getting that stack overflow message. I've spent a total of at least two entire days trying to get rid of it; no luck yet. Dell says it's a software problem, and that I'd have to pay them to have it solved -- minimum charge: $100. So I'm still trying to figure it out on my own.

Athana said...

Ursa, I might be able to warm up to the idea of studying with the Mosuo. And what an honor to have you offer a bit of funding for it! When your book on the Mosuo arrives, I’d be very interested in knowing what you think of it.

Anti-thesis of Reason said...

Athana said. . .'anti_thesis: I see the difference. Then could you also say, "Where does female end and male begin"?'


Sorry for the delay in response, long holiday weekend and no internet connection :-(

Yes, you could say that and be correct in saying so. The God Head, The All, God/dess, whatever you want to call it contains both masculine and feminine aspects, the two are one. We humans are the ones that insist that the two are seperate entities. As we all know, we also each contain an aspect of male and female, do we not??

Pignut said...

"The Celts skipped the boy/girl thing, having a Mother Diana and a daughter Aradia/Kore as the divine couple."

Celtic? The Celts had a bewildering variety of gods. The surviving legends don't do them justice. Archaeologists record hundreds of names of Celtic gods from inscriptions, most of which only appear once.

The Slavic pantheon doesn't seem hierarchical, (although I don't know much about it) it includes our old friend Perun the thunder god, but he seems to have wandered in from Germany, and wasn't the chief god. It seems to be a very large loose group of gods.

Incidentally some Germanic tribes saw Thor or Tyr rather than Odin as head of the pantheon, admittedly these are all male warrior gods, but maybe the hierarchy depends on whose version of the legends survived.

Maybe the whole concept of a pantheon is artificial, and we should really think of many different cults, some monotheistic, some polytheistic loosely bound together by politics.

What we consider to be Norse legends are really the Icelandic version of the Norse legends recorded by a Christian bishop.

I don't know too much about Hinduism, but I think different cults unofficially worship different gods and goddesses as supreme beings.