Comparative Pantheism

Posted: July 20, 2011 by Jack in Randomnicity

Jack on mythology…

Amidst the accepted and standard religious beliefs (or nonbeliefs) that characterize our modern society, there lurks a lingering question that is seldom addressed. We’re so caught up in dealing with Mormons, Atheists, Buddhists, Fundamentalists, Muslims, Democrats, Sikhs, Wiccans, and the ever-tenacious Jehovah’s Witnesses that most of us never consider the elements that came before the wacky religio-philosophical fruit salad we enjoy today. Therefore, I say it’s high time we considered the relative merits of the mythologies of our forebears and ancestors, so that the superior pantheon may be established once and for all.

To make this easier on our audience, I myself have spent almost twenty-seven minutes of exhaustive research, poring over several Wikipedia pages in the original English manuscript and have reached the all-but-unassailable conclusion that the Norse gods form the preeminent mythological cast from ancient times. I offer the following comparisons with the only other contestant, the Greek pantheon, as proof.

#1 Leading Ladies   

Hera and Frigg are the respective leading goddesses in these two pantheons and share similar spheres of influence (marriage, childbirth, and other family stuff). It was probably pretty difficult being in the same room as these two women, as I’m sure the debates on child-rearing, home finance, and interior decorating would get … heated. Despite the similarities, the priorities of the two feminine archetypes are ridiculously antithetical.

For instance, among Frigg’s most famous act was her effort to secure the safety of her son, Baldr, after he had a series of horrific and doom-portending nightmares. After hearing his story, she went out and secured an oath of allegiance from every person, animal, and substance in existence to do no harm to her son. Of course, she overlooked one (as is tradition in tales of this type) and Baldr ended up dead at the end, but that’s some serious commitment on her part. How many mothers do you know that go out and try to alter the attributes of all physical matter when a kid has a bad dream? Yeah, I thought not.

Frigg also has the honor of being the only other individual beside Odin that may sit on the throne in Valhalla and look out over the universe. Apparently she’s got some serious leadership qualities. Plus, she has one of the best days of the week named after her.

TGIFrigg's-day

TGIFrigg's-day

Hera, on the other hand, can be primarily remembered for being a high-maintenance drama queen and the all-time worst example of a nurturing maternal figure. Most of the stories place Hera in the “angry, powerful female making life miserable for everyone else because she didn’t get her idealistic selfish way” role, demonstrating that movies like Mommy Dearest and Because I Said So are by no means original concepts to modern times. The following list of Hera’s interactions with her victims puts one in mind of a Mafia family’s Competitor Relations Strategy Guide.

• Tied Alcmene’s legs into knots to prevent the birth of Hercules

• Turned Galanthis into an animal as revenge for allowing Hercules’ birth

• Sent two snakes to kill the infant Hercules in his crib

• Incited the Amazons to attack Hercules on his quests (She didn’t like Hercules at all)

• Cursed the nymph Echo to only be able to repeat what others say

• Cursed Leto to be unable to birth her children on land or sea, risking an eternal pregnancy or death

• Cursed Io to be continuously stung by flies after she was turned into a cow

• Killed Lamia’s children and turned her into a monster, and then decided to remove Lamia’s ability to close her eyes as well

• After birthing Hephaestus, she threw him out of Olympus because he was too ugly (and the resulting fall crippled him for all time)

• Turned Gerana into a crane and forced her to attack her former people

While many of Hera’s actions were borne out of anger from her husband’s habitual adultery (more on that later), she’s still not exactly a milk-and-cookies kind of mother. And she’s supposed to be the idealized version of a feminine deity.

Crazy broad.

#2 Gods of War

Well, everyone knows that the primary sport in olden days was bashing in the heads or skewering the guts of the people in the neighboring country/city/street/house/room/chair. Hence, it’s necessary to examine the relative warrior gods of each pantheon. On the one hand, we have Ares, and on the other, Tyr. Let’s check the evidence, shall we?

Ares was a bloodthirsty, crazed, aggressive, borderline sociopathic fellow who was actually rather despised by the Greeks (who at this point in history were putting the finishing touches on democracy and philosophy, and would have probably felt something plebeian like War to be “so very 1100 B.C., don’t you think so, Reginaldus?”). In fact, one of the most Ares-centric passages of the Iliad recounts how the god was actually forced off the battlefield at Troy at the behest of his own mother and responded by running home to Olympus where his father responded to Ares’ moaning by informing him that if he wasn’t Zeus’ son, he wouldn’t even let him in the house. This is the mythological equivalent of the sandlot bully’s mom hauling him off home by his ear, where his father tells him to stop being such a whiny little loser.

Tyr’s greatest escapade, on the other hand, involves the binding of Fenrir, a monstrous wolf that is apparently made of fangs, claws, and nightmares.

His fleas were twelve feet long.

After failing to bind Fenrir twice, the Norse pantheon had a magic ribbon crafted to place around the wolf. Suspicious, Fenrir agreed to be bound only if one of the gods placed their hand in his mouth during the process as a pledge of good faith. Tyr, in what is probably one of the gutsiest moves in all mythology, sauntered up and put his right hand in the wolf’s jaws, knowing full well it probably wouldn’t be coming back out again. Unable to escape, Fenrir took Tyr’s hand off at the wrist. Tyr’s response to this?

Nothing.

He apparently simply walked away, leaving Fenrir bound by the ribbon and the other gods wincing in sympathy.

Later on, he took a spear through the neck and asked for a cough drop and a glass of water.

#3 Big Men

Of course, every pantheon needs a leader, and these two are no exception. Zeus became king of the gods on Olympus, and Odin held authority in Valhalla. Both are acknowledged by the rest of the pantheon as the ruler, and both have access to immense knowledge and power. So which is the better leader?

Like other leaders and kings throughout history, Zeus’ story is that of a self-motivated rise to power. He deposed his own father as ruler of the universe and forced him to release the other children that he had borne and then eaten to consolidate power (those silly Ancient Greeks and their madcap political strategies, let me tell you…) Afterward, he was awarded the kingship by his grateful siblings and given power over the sky, which he used to –

commit adultery!

Seriously. If you read the Greek mythologies, half of the stories start out with problems caused by Zeus’ serial un-faithfulness. God of Storms and Sky? More like God of Homewreckers, if you ask me. And then, of course, the principle of subjects emulating their ruler came into play, and the world was full of gods and goddesses running around sleeping with everything that walked, swam, or had a pulse, populating the world with horrific monsters of every variety. Way to go.

Odin, on the other hand, is associated primarily with being clever – and for performing feats of sacrifice and endurance. His famous wisdom came from drinking out of Mimir’s Well and learning the secrets of the runes – experiences that required him to pull out his own eye and to hang himself from the tree Yggdrasil for nine days. He used these abilities to …

Prepare for the end of the world.

So while Zeus spent his time as a deified fratboy, Odin was busy selecting the best warriors from among those fallen in battle to support the gods in their last stand that would come at the battle of Ragnarok. Interestingly, this strategy was not meant to save the Valhallan gods (Odin knew they’d all die in battle) but to ensure that humanity had a chance at survival.

Thanks, Odin!

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