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Khthonic Zeus part 2

October 30, 2011

So I have finished reading the article “The Propitiation of Zeus” by Joseph Williams Hewitt (1908) in which there was a LOT of interesting information.  This is obviously written by a scholar and not a polytheist.  In some cases, one wonders whether you are reading about Zeus or Hades. He gives information about various khthonic epithets of Zeus which I have not seen before and will add to this blog over time.  (His footnotes have some interesting information about other divinities too.)  The author explains that Zeus was a sky god that came in with conquers (though honestly since I’m not familiar with the very early history of that area, I’m not sure who he is speaking of) and gradually assumed the roll of a lot of local khthonic deities.  He states the differences between the Olympians and the Khthonic gods is that the former send men good things while the later send bad.  So Olympians are worshiped and Khthonians are placated with holocausts and “sober sacrifices” (nephalia).  The Olympians are asked to send the good things while the Khthonians to remove the bad.

Personally that seems like splitting hairs to me.  If I ask for an illness to be removed from my body, the result of which would seem pretty darn positive to me.  I also do not see Khthonic deities as all that scary dark either.  Granted at one time, they are all reputed to received human sacrifices.  Yet I can not help but wonder if they asked for such a sacrifice or if man in his “wisdom” chose to offer that.  It matters little to me now as I nor anyone else I know would even contemplate it.  Yes Kthonic deities can be extremely frightening but they also adored children, had an interest in agriculture and seem to be always ready to aid the individual.  Whereas Olympian deities seem to be more concerned with the overall picture, with man as a group as opposed to little ol’ me.  Yet in many cases, they are the same divinity.  It is hard for my mind to accept that khthonic Zeus is the same as Olympian Zeus, but my heart says ‘oh yeah”.

In myths Zeus was born in a cave and hidden there from his cannibalistic father.  He was raised by nymphs on honey and goat’s milk.  He was protected by his mother’s warriors.  With these warriors, he trained in the arts of war and peace.  With Gaea and the nymphs he learned about the world, its functions and inhabitants.  After consulting with Gaea, Zeus discovered a way to save his siblings who then joined with him in overthrowing their father.  They by acclaim or by lots made him King of the Gods.  He went from being very khthonic to Olympian.

I do not think Zeus regrets his roots.  Actually I think his roots are what keep him interested in us as individuals.  When one insists on thinking of him as solely a sky god, I think it puts in an artificial separation in the intellect that many cannot overcome.  Yet, if you conceive of him as much closer, as an earth god, it is easier to see and establish a closer connection.  I do believe he very much wants a closer relationship with us mortals.  As a patriarch, he is interested seeing man go on to do bigger and better things, but as a father he cares for the individual just as much.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2011 11:59 AM

    You know it has struck me just how many Olympians have cthonic connections (whether that be more overt as with Zeus, Hermes and Demeter) or more subtle. I didn’t even consider Apollon’s cthonic connections until I did more research and found images of the god in a serpent/dragon drawn chariot, and just considering too the importance of the serpent in his cult (a powerful cthonic creature associated also with immortality) as is also presents in the cult of Athena. It certainly does make it interesting to see how this aspects or symbols are a part of the Olympain deity. It certainly bears thinking about!
    This was a very good analysis and very interesting to read Aj.


    • October 31, 2011 12:18 PM

      Thanks. I hope to blog about the information that I found interesting in this article in the next few days. All those deities are mentioned in the notes plus several others. I’m really starting to think that the division between Olympian and Khthonic is an artificial division put in place by scholars who see everything in black and white.


      • October 31, 2011 12:27 PM

        I think you are right. From what I can tell pretty much every Olympian enjoys some kind of Cthonic cultis or association, therefore where is the division. Perhaps there is some difference in how we understand them or relate to them, and how they are impacting our spiritual beings and environments…but I am willing to bet that this is just a portion of a larger interconnected tapestry of the nature of the gods rather than what appears to be a blatant artificial division that wants to seperate “earthly” and “heavenly”…a seperation that really doesn’t seem to exist in Hellenismos as far as I have seen it.


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