Sunday, October 28, 2012

How far would you go to appease the Gods?

One a forum I frequent but rarely post on, someone asked how far we would go for the Gods. The question referred to requests made by the Gods to prove our devotion; like Abraham, being asked to sacrifice his own child to the Christian God. I was shocked at how... rational the answers were. I understand not wanting to sacrifice a child, of course, but never--in any of these myths--was the child actually killed. Most of the answers on the thread came down to a refusal of said request, and the disbanding of Their worship, even if the deity in question showed up before them in person and told them to do it.

On the one hand, this is probably a healthy reaction. It may be time to talk to a psychiatrist if you start experiencing these types of thoughts. Then again, who knows how many psychiatric patients just get worse and worse because the deity they were hearing in the first place tries to shout through the medication-induced fog? Maybe some of the famous people who heard the voice of God weren't completely well, but they did manage to inspire the entire country of France to rise up against the English invaders, amongst others.

I have said before that I don't hear the voices of the Theoi, and I have never heard the voices of any other God or Goddess either, except in my dreams when I was a child. Yet, if Athena appeared before me, in shining armor and divine beauty, I would fall to my knees and do anything She asked of me without a second thought. Why? Because I believe in the Theoi--and other Gods--and believe that They have insights we lack, as simple mortals. I trust the Theoi, so if They feel I should take certain actions, I will.

Then again, I have given myself to an 'easy' pantheon; as best as I can remember, only once was someone asked to sacrifice their child to the Theoi: Agamemnon, who was asked by Artemis to sacrifice his child to Her so he could redeem an act of hubris against Her. In return, She would allow the wind to blow again, so the warships could sail to Troy to reclaim Helen.

When I was sixteen, I took part in a school musical version of Euripides’ 'Iphigenia at Aulis'. The play started with the Hellenic army waiting for the wind, and ended at the point Iphigeneia (Ἰφιγένεια) is sacrificed and saved by Artemis. I played Agamemnon, and it was awesome. Not just because a short, cute, sixteen year old girl was allowed to play one of the greatest military leaders in Hellenic history, but because it forced me to delve deep into the myth and understand the reasons behind Agamemnon's decision to go through with the sacrifice. 

For those unfamiliar with the ending of the myth: as Iphigeneia willingly steps up to the altar to be sacrificed--realizing her life is of lesser importance than the impending war, or simply to appease her father--Artemis appears and switches the girl for a deer just before either the fire can burn her, or the blade pierces her skin.

Note that the one Hellenic myth--correct me if there are more--where a sacrifice is asked that seems beyond reasonable, the sacrifice chooses, of her own accord, to be sacrificed. And is saved by the Goddess she was sacrificed to. Then again, Agamemnon did lose his daughter to Artemis: She took her away, so perhaps it was a sacrifice after all. 

In a prior post about hubris, I stated that I vehemently do not believe the Theoi--or other Gods--always have our best interest in mind. I think the Theoi have Their best interest in mind, first and foremost, and if we want that for Them as well, then They will help us any way that they can. When we don't--and thus commit hubris--the Theoi become our worst enemies.

The Theoi need not be appeased. They have always been happy with regular devotional sacrifices, with Their hymns, with simply being in the minds of Their followers. As such, we will never have to 'prove our devotion' unless we commit hubris against Them. So if Athena appeared before me, and told me to do something, it would never be to prove my loyalty: it would be to redeem myself. It would be a final warning, and I'd be incredibly joyous that the Theoi care about me enough to allow me a chance for redemption. So, yes, I would do it. In a heartbeat, whatever it is. And I'll do it, secure in the knowledge that whatever is asked of me, is asked by an immortal being who understands the world much better than I ever will, and who is trying to save me.


Swift Rabbit said...

Your post very thought provoking. I worship local Land Gods and a very lose understanding of Columbia. The former don't have the authority to demand human sacrifice and the latter I'm not certain exists beyond thought form. Still were a God to ask me to sacrifice a human life for them, I'd have to think very carefully about why They would want that and what I would gain.

It would help if said sacrifice was willing as was the case with Agamemnon's daughter, but it still wouldn't be a deeply troubling thing for Deity to ask me.

I think at the end of the day I have too deep a value for this plane and this time to end someone else's life prematurely for the request of a God. We were all put here to experience this world, who am I and who is this God to cut anyone's time short intentionally? That's just my thought though.

Elani Temperance said...

Just to be clear, this is a strictly hypothetical post. I'm the type of person who takes spiders outside instead of killing them. The thought of taking a human life makes me queasy, just like it would anyone else. I picked the sacrifice of a child to illustrate this topic simply because it's what the original topic was about, but it would apply to anyhing elae that may be asked of a supplicant by a deity, including fasting, moving from one place to another, building a temple, etcetera.

With that out of the way, thank you for reading and thank you for your comment.I can understand how far out of your religious comfort zone this is; I look at blood sacrifice, flailing or other forms of religious self harm the exact same way. Yet, judging Gods from out moral standpoints seems short-sighted and full of--within Hellenismos--dangerous hubris. Going against the will of the Gods--especially the Theoi--tends to have a rather deadly outcome for whomever committed the offense as well as everyone around them. Just food for thought.

Like I said, I worship relatively gentile Gods who don't have a habit of asking for outlandish sacrifice. I am very happy I was not called by Mayan or Aztec Gods; I doubt I would have the stones to honor Those Gods in a decent fashion.

Again, thank you gor reading and commenting. It's a difficult subject.

introspectivemaenad said...

I remember that forum thread. I didn't respond on it, but your thoughts are very similar to mine on the topic. I was also surprised at how many responses were along the lines of "I'd find another God."

I can't imagine the Theoi asking for something that extreme, unless I had totally f***ed up, as Agamemnon did. They're just not as jealous as the God of Abraham. (For certain definitions of "jealous" anyway.)

Elani Temperance said...

It's good to hear you agree :) I wasn't going to post this post there, though. That's not a debate I'm willing to have on that particular forum.

I agree that the Theoi are not as jealous--for lack of a better word--as the God of Abraham. These things just don't get asked to those living a pious Hellenistic life.

Tannim said...


Years ago I was given the choice of either giving up everything that I had (including family) or giving up THEM.After much ranting,raving and soul searching I replied "I am YOUR tool use me as YOU see fit." Over the years I may have wished that things could have been different but I have never regretted the choice. I miss those friends and family members that I had to leave behind but what I have gained was more then worth it. Truth be told if they where to ask me to do the same again the only difference would be that I would leave out the ranting and raving. All that I am and all that I have comes from the Ancestors, Holy Powers and Spirits. Who am I to question THEM if they want it back?

Elani Temperance said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I wholly agree with your sentiment; when They ask us to do something, I--for one--can not and will not say no. I'm sorry for the troubles in your family, though. That's always rough.

Setken said...

"The Greeks" - the modern version of the plays that included your "Iphegenia in Aulis", was the graduation play at my drama school!

I played King Priam and a soldier (in "The Trojan Women".)

Elani Temperance said...

Setken; that's pretty awesome! Did you get to die horribly on stage? Death scenes are epic.

Maya M said...

Correction: Abraham is a figure from the Old Tastement. His myth originated centuries before the Christian God emerged.

Maya M said...

Iphigenia is saved only in one version of the myth, most likely invented by Euripides. His predecessors Aeschylus and Sophocles never mention anything about miraculous salvation. In their versions, the girl is slain at the altar.
Other examples of human sacrifice demanded by the Theoi and done in order to obtain military victory: a daughter of Erechtheus; Creon's son Megareus; Heracles' daughter Macaria. Maybe there have been others, I have not researched this subject in detail.
Of course, in all these cases, with the possible exception of Iphigenia, the victim "consented". To me, this matters as much as the artificially induced "nod" of the sacrificial animal.