Sunday, May 22, 2011

Well, here I sit confused by ...

From a Greek Vase.

… Greek mythology. And I thought historical research was confusing .... One thing I discovered is that the editors of the Oxford Classical Dictionary were prudes. If you choose to present an authoritative view of ancient mythology, shouldn't you also present it frankly? I think so.

So why is it I have to toddle off to books written in the 18th Century to find what I want? Victorian prudishness is alive and well. Our middle and high schools present Greek Mythology. In high school it's presented in a third year literature class. It's candified. Of course you can't tell the little boys and girls about shape-shifting Greek gods who abducted and rapped each other's children, who fostered bestiality, who were just nasty blokes all around.

Probably, given the state of society, the Olympian gods are alive and well and still practicing their mischief. I'm interested in the story of Mercury and Penelope. There are, it seems, two main versions of it. The most common one is taken from a bit of nastiness that included dialogue between Pan and Mercury. The other, and to me more interesting version, tells of her seduction during a cultic dance. This is probably closer to the original, though I'm not any sort of expert on Greek myth. My problem is that I’ve found this in only one source, a book published in the early 18th Century. But since I write fiction, I am not bound to total accuracy.

There is strong evidence that cultic dances included the costumed personification of the gods and some considerable licentiousness. This characterized eastern Mediterranean cults. You can find an example in the Bible. The goat cult takes endless forms, persisting in the Mediterranean area until the middle ages. The Knights Templar and the nature religion that was called “witchcraft” in the Middle Ages both manifested elements of it. It included simulated sexual intercourse with goats, and on some occasions the simulation became a reality. It is usually seen as a fertility rite, but my impression is that it’s an (there must be a good word for this) empowerment rite. Intercourse with the personification of the god brought the promise of power, not simply the promise of renewal. Looking at sexual rites as fertility rites seems simplistic. The underlying issue is power. Participate and you have the promise of power.

Cultic Dance from Third Century Vase

I’m not willing to call this a false promise. We derive a sense of empowerment form all sorts of things, and if we feel empowered then we just may be. Where today a sense of empowerment may come from wealth, knowledge, ability, then it could come from ritual. We have our own rituals too, some of them personal and some congregational. Watch any group – a board meeting is a good example – and you will see ritual in what they do. The distribution of seats and tablets and pens at a board meeting may look different from naked or nearly naked worshipers circle-dancing and having goat sex or being soaked in pig blood, but they still establish power among the hierarchy of individuals.

Religion is about empowerment. The Babylonian practice of virgin-whoring in the temple taught lessons of dominance more than it gave voice to a misguided sense of continuing fertility. The ancient gods were a disreputable lot, and they're still worshiped under new names and in newer ways.

The idea of incarnation seems to come from cultic belief that gods could inhabit their worshipers. (Do not cite me as an authority.) If a god could inhabit a cultic participant, then he could become flesh. Anyway, I'm still poking at Penelope’s story because I want to use the idea of cultic dance in a story. We'll see.

I want to craft two dances for the story, a pixie celebration and a wicked fairy cultic dance. I don’t write “x” rated stuff, so I won’t be using everything I find. But an improbable story is best told when it resembles reality.

On the research front, I located an article in the October 1989 issue of Methodist History. (I did warn you somewhere that Methodists seek world domination by boring us all to death or by feeding us donuts and bad coffee?) It’s a longish article, but distilled I think it will condense to maybe two sentences. But they’ll be two useful sentences, I ken.

I also found a really helpful issue of The Literalist. (I found all of volume two but will only use the one issue.) It contains an excellent history of the Literalist movement. As with Mr. Storrs’ life, not all of it is useful, but all of it is very, very interesting. It means, however, that must rewrite the introduction to one chapter. That’s okay. It will be better than it now is.


  1. Do you suppose that this post will bring those slimy middle eastern blokes out of their oooze again

  2. It looks like I need to delve into Greek mythology a little deeper now. I was outside today taking photos of my daughter who is late into her pregnancy now. Rachael you can go to my facebook page to look at them.