o f t h e G o d s
The initial pole is where the Gods "step forth/From inhabited things" -- or from uninhabited things as well, if indeed there are such in a world that is of human beings. The final pole is where "they withdraw themselves." "The life of the Gods" between these two poles is that which "in the spirit ever renews itself and runs its course and has its truth." This life does not signify the completion or even the repeated completion, of a biography, but rather an efficacious "now" that plays its variations in imagistic happenings. The richly varied play within the spirit is called mythology. The theater of mythology -- the stage, the players, and the audience -- is the human being. As with fabric, the Gods clothe themselves with him. From the historical perspective, they exist only in the material which has been woven from human beings themselves and from their surrounding world. Once they have stepped into this material -- "material" understood as "clothing" -- their history begins.
For this reason, the stories of the Gods have so much to do with human history. While the divinity of the Gods cannot be further penetrated, the human fabric is more analyzable. But we are after all concerned with the heroes of that history, with the Gods. They form the presupposition of mythology as they do of every historical study of them, of every "history of the Gods," and in all such cases it is never certain at the outset whether it is not more the history of attrition then the history of development, in the sense of a "spiritualization," or a combination of both. A Greek God comes to us in such manifold forms, from so many places, out of so many levels of past human life, that we must first of all assemble him as we would a heap of collected bones -- which is itself a mythological act. But this is a difficult scientific procedure, not less so than that of archeologists, and it has similar prerequisites: a feeling for style, a feeling for structure and for the unique and special -- for archeology the unique and special elements of works of art and artifacts, for us the unique and special elements of the Gods and the Divine. Particularity is just as timeless as structure. Stylistic differences are here also imagistic differences which characterize different archeological and human levels: the dimension of history is announced in these -- and rendering insufficient the structure as a mere skeletal structure -- a dimension which always leads back to the "hero" or "heroine" of the story who are not themselves merely structures. They are something more on the order of "forms of being" as Walter F. Otto conceives them, yet such as "bathe throat and face" -- if not at our visible cisterns -- and clothe themselves in human material. I have yet to mention the sensitivity for this material, for the concretely human; this could just as well be primary.
The reader is going to have to traverse a path of research which is not easy or familiar, not even for experts in the field. No thesis, no dogma of any kind of religion or philosophy - which would state how a God should be or not be, what he should be, or to what he should be reduced -- not even the dogma of many scholars of religion who hold a preconceived notion that a God should evolve out of something and how he should develop, forms the basic plan of this path. Only the readiness to pay attention to how the pieces fit together is assumed. It will be a pathway through undergrowth and piles of stones, through literary traditions and ruins -- certainly through the ruins of the Acropolis of Athens [Text and Views: The Acropolis of Athens]. It will not be a simple pleasure, like reading the recounted tales of mythology which are told for their own sake.
One may read the mythology of Pallas Athena in connection with this study [Texts: The Goddess Athena]. The "assembling" of the Goddess Athena must take place also on the basis of her cultic monuments: mythology and cult yield the religion of Pallas Athena. Cult -- namely, as it is artfully worked out and built up through rites -- is considered from the viewpoint of mythology: it is the exteriorization of the inner theater into a world theater, with the limitation placed on it that it can include only those aspects of inner experience which can be expressed in acts, yet including the suprahuman which is "inhabited" by the human. Through such, man attains his just claim and his profit. For this reason psychologists have acknowledged the significance of cult for human beings far more than have the authors of materially more important works in the science of religion and ethnology, who are trapped in childish-magical power conceptions.
"If only we still had ceremonies, this treasure, which the most primitive aboriginals still have!" These are the words which one who is experienced in the creativeness of the soul, Max Kommerell, allows a modern psychologist to speak in his whimsically titled but historically and intellectually significant novel, Der Lampenschirm aus drei Taschentuchern (Berlin, 1940):
"Everything unadmitted thirsts for them. Perhaps there is a secret passion between daughter and father... I once saw two noble souls pale and shrink with fear and shame, instead of allowing the soothing divine hand of the father to establish the ceremonies which moderate wish-fulfillment into ritual celebration... That which exists, but does not actually happen, would have been stilled into a kiss, the touch of lip and forehead. This would have allowed great things to pass between them, and they would have enjoyed themselves innocently in the enthusiasm for conversation and song. Instead of feeling fear about approaching one another, they would have not begrudged their passion a series of festivals which end in memory."
No festival or cult -- that is, no
festival or cult in the real sense -- was ever founded for the relationship
of persons to persons without the Divine, which is the presupposition of
the religious phenomena of "festival" and "cult" being experienced in it.
There have been and are ceremonies of love and friendship. The same is
true of love poems and poems of friendship, but they are truly poems only
as they become elevated into the realm of art. Similarly there are festivals
of love and friendship, but they are proper festivals and proper cults
only when they have been elevated to the sphere of the Gods. This is the
form in which the history of religions finds them. That they were initially
elevated to this level without being initially directed at any God or at
anything divine is neither demonstrable nor probable. The therapeutic meaning
of cult, its healing and wholeness-creating power, is undeniable. We must
procede from the fact that the cult is in history above all a cultus
deorum, a cult of the Gods, with the emphasis not falling on the element
Athena, Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion (1952)
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Copyright ©1999 Roy George