The gods We Worship

We prefer to think of ourselves as thoroughly modern people who are Christian, monotheists in belief. Yet how many of our waking hours are consumed thinking about money versus how much time do we spend each week praying or meditating on the God of the Hebrew and Christian bible?

Jesus clearly tells us that we cannot worship or follow both God and mammon. (Mammon is Hebrew for wealth.) Do we hedge our bets following one part of the time and the other the rest of the time? It is instructive to see how the Greeks thought about their gods. Let’s start with Ploutus (Plutus) the god of wealth.

During the classical period, Greek mythology Plutus is described as blinded by Zeus, so that he would be able to dispense his gifts of fortune without prejudice. Plutus is also described as lame because he takes his time arriving for his human subjects, and he has wings so that fortune departs faster than it arrived. When Plutus’ sight is restored in one comedy, he is able to determine who is deserving of wealth and thereby creates havoc. In art, Plutus is depicted as the one bearing the cornucopia, horn of plenty. In some cases, Plutus is a boy in the arms of Eirene, the goddess of peace, implying that the gift of peace brings prosperity. In other works, Plutus is shown in the arms of Tyche, the god of cities, telling us that wealth accumulates in the urban areas.

As early as the 1300 BC Mycenaean period, wine, wine-making, grape harvest and ecstasy was worshiped as the god, Dionysos, who was followed and written about extensively. Since Dionysos represented the sap or lifeblood of nature, lavish orgia (rituals) were observed attended mainly by women. Dionysos was also the god of insanity and theater.  Also called “the liberator,” Dionysos’ wine, music and ecstatic dance free his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subvert the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are believed to become possessed and empowered by the god himself. Wine would later become central to Jewish sabbath and Christian Eucharist observances. Is Dionysos still with us?

Wine, as understood through Greek religion, was not only symbolic of the god, but represented the incarnation of the god on earth. By the post-Classical period of Greece, Dionysian rituals become connected with the correct consumption of wine rather than the over-consumption of it in earlier times. It seems as if some societies can become self-correcting over many centuries.

When it comes to war; however, the Greeks celebrated feminine and masculine forms. Athena, was the feminine goddess of war representing intellect, strategy, and leadership. She is the namesake of the capital city of Greece, Athens. Her temple is the acropolis high above the city. Her brother, Ares, represents the violent, brutal, untamed aspects of war. Although he embodied the physical valor necessary for success in war, he was a dangerous force, “overwhelming, insatiable in battle, destructive, and man-slaughtering.” His sons were named fear (phobos) and terror (deimos). In the Iliad, Zeus tells Ares that he is the god most hateful to Zeus. Ares endowed places with a savage, dangerous, militarized quality. In the Trojan War, Athena wins the day and is led away with Nike (the god of victory) while Ares is associated with the losing side. After the Roman conquest of Greece, the Roman god Mars is basically a re-branded version of Ares.

We could go on with this like a college class, but by now, you should begin to see some familiar themes coming through from a thousand years before Jesus. I am sure that historians three thousand years from now (if humanity still exists) will talk about our culture worshiping the gods of Facebook and shopping.

The real questions of loyalty and its successive practice of belief is where do you spend your time and what moves your heart? The answer is between you and the gods.

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