Elemental Sources of Greek Gods

  July 04, 2021   Read time 2 min
Elemental Sources of Greek Gods
There are, however, several other elements besides local gods and Nature Spirits that went to produce the Greek gods. They received an extremely important addition from the rites.

As historical investigations note, when belief in the gods had arisen, the magical rites, which worked in and for themselves as an opus operatum, became attached to the gods and passed over to their cult. Thus the weather-magic passed into the cult of Zeus, purifications and the curing of diseases into that of Apollo, rites of fertility into those of Demeter and Dionysos, and the annual bonfires into that of Artemis. This is how the gods acquired the greater part of their rites and festivals, which were originally pre-deistic, at least as regards those which have the most lllterest for the history of relIgion. It goes without saying that this process, which followed a god in constant evolution from his first beginnings, powerfully contributed to develop his influence and authority. The gods repaid this by forcing the magical character of the rites into the background, which meant a gam in religious elevation.

In this attempt to explain the origins of Greek polytheism our conception of the fundamental significance of the various gods plays an important part. This is a difficult but not always an insoluble problem if it be attacked from right premises. To illustrate the method, I should like to quote the words of an eminent philologist in regard to the fundamental significance of the linguistic forms. We should carefully distinguish between the general significance of a form and its original significance. The first results from the fusion of the various uses of the form into a higher, common concephon; it IS a general formula to which we seek to refer separate functIOns, and as a product of logical abstraction it is only of value in a survey of the actual use of the form. The fundamental significance is the original function from which in course of time the separate significations have been developed, and is, therefore, strictly speaking, that function alone which the form had when it arose.

Mutatis mutandis the same thing precisely is true of the gods. But the problem is perhaps even more difficult. A god comes into being not only from an inward development proceeding from the original function but also by the addItion of elements from outside. It may be that the original crystallizing-point in the general conception of the god's functions lay quite on the periphery. It is no doubt owing to an exaggeration of the difficulties and an under-estimation of its importance for the history of religion that no great attention has been paid to the question of late years. I venture to hope that my account has at least shown that the solution of this problem is indispensable to any understanding of the development of the Greek religion.