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PBP: Zeus Georgos

March 30, 2012

“a year of exploring the Pagan world through blogging”

The epithet Georgos means farmer or literally “earth worker”.   As an agricultural deity, he was honored on 30 Maimakterion (November/December) which was the time plowing and planting of grain.  Heracles was called the son of Zeus Georgos because he is reputed to be the first to use a plow.  This epithet is related to Zeus Maimaketes, Zeus Melikhios, and Zeus Karthaisios to the point that the individual cults were nearly indistinguishable from each other.  Zeus Georgos typically received a bloodless sacrifice like ambrosia (water, olive oil and pansperma) or cakes.  The dios kodion was probably carried around the fields in his name for purification and protection from bad weather. Now the above is about all the information I could find on this epithet but then it got a little interesting.  A footnote in Zeus:  A Study in Ancient Religion by A. B. Cook caught my eye

The chief centre of the cult of St George was Lydda or Diospolis — the ‘ city of Zeus ‘ — in Samaria…The saint stood in some relation to a sacred pillar…If the column at Diospolis was of this type, it must have resembled the ‘Jupiter-columns’ of Germany, Belgium and France, which are commonly surmounted by a sky-god, probably Ziu, conceived as a warlike Iupiter on horse-back spearing a serpent-legged giant…the legend of St George and the dragon suggests comparison with that of Zeus and Typhoeus, and furnishes a fresh point d’appui for the conjecture that St George is a modification of Zeus Georges.

Previous to this entry was the following:

St George too is an agricultural power…G. F. Abbott Macedonian Folklore Cambridge 1903 p. 44 quotes a folk-song from Sochos, in which St George carries ‘ wheat and barley, and grains of pearl,’ and is asked to ‘Give to the bride chestnuts and to the groom walnuts.’ J. Rendel Harris The Annotators of the Codex Bezae London 1901 p. 83 shows that in south Italy St George ‘is the protector of cattle’ with an ‘agricultural and pastoral value,’ and op. cit. p. 100 f. cites from Frazer Golden Bough’ 2, i. 209 ff. [id. 3 The Magic Art ii. 75 f., cp. 79 for a Russian parallel] evidence that in Carinthia and among the gypsies of Transylvania and Roumania the chief figure on the festival of St George (April 23) is a ‘ Green George ‘ clad in leaves and blossoms, who is carried in procession along with a tree, or officiates beside a young willow tree set up in the ground, and is finally ducked in person or in effigy with the express intention of securing rain and food for the cattle.

So I started doing a little more searching and turned up this:

“The monastery of Diskouri…owned today by the monastery of Halepa, is believed to have been built over an ancient temple of Dioscuri…In the center of the courtyard there is the church of St. George. The old icon of St. George is famous to the Cretan herders who swear on that when they are accused of stealing animals.”

Which of course just tickled my curiousity…

 “the Monastery of Diskouri…is a historical monastery, where the inhabitants of the region swore to the picture of St’ George in order to solve their differences. The characteristic phrase of the oath was “Ni ma Ze kai amnogo sou, prama den katexo” which means “By Zeus yes, I swear that I don’t know anything”. People swore to the picture of St’ George “by Zeus” that they didn’t know anything, a custom possibly of ancient origins. Usually, those who knew something, but didn’t want to speak, avoided going to the church, because tradition had it that the Saint was not joking when it came to lying.

Zeus was considered to be the god of of oaths and to break your oath was to invite his anger.

“the oath that the shepherds would use until quite recently when they had a dispute or when in doubt: “Ni Za, fasko sou kai kateche to, de fteo sto prama sou, ergo i vouli mou” which means “I’m telling you by God and you should know that I haven’t done or known anything about what you are asking me”. (“The expression ergo vouli is still used nowadays”.) In other words they take an oath by Zeus without knowing that the expression “Ni Za” means “By Zeus” as we today say: “By God”. The word Za was supposed to be the corrupted form of the word zoa (animals) as the Cretans call their sheep and goats. All the shepherds from Zoniana over 70 or 80 years old remember this oath. My father who died in 1987 told me that when he was a young shepherd, the oath mentioned above included the following: they used to make a cross on a stone, put their hands on it as we do today on the Holy Gospel and said the oath. The only difference was that after ‘Ni Za’ they added the name of St. George. “By Zeus and Saint George”. Apparently the Christian elements of the Cross and Saint George were added after the establishment of Christianity.

In the interior of the church the historical and, as the locals will tell you, miracle -working icon of Aghios Georgios is kept. It is still a custom to ask for help or the solution of various issues in front of this icon with a pledge to Zeus, also known as “NiZa”.

So then I did a little searching on St. George.  Ummm yeah, there isn’t a very good consensus on who St. George is.  Many pages took a lot of effort to deny any Pagan associations.  I did see a few pages that associated the saint with Zeus (Typhus myth), Perseus (Andromeda myth) or Heracles (first to plow).  Two pages with pretty good summations of everything I read are Wiki and here.  St. George’s feast day moves around depending on which Christian sect you look at and which calendar they follow though April 23rd or the Monday after Easter are the most typical dates.  I think any of these dates would be a great time to honor Zeus Georgos.  I leave you with “a favorite rhyme” about St. George:

My warmest good wishes I am sending to you And hoping that the winter is through You will start out afresh to follow the lead Of our Patron Saint George and his spirited steed; Not only to tackle what ever my befall, But also successfully to win through it all And then may you have an enjoyable spell Of hiking, and jolly good camping as well.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2012 9:22 PM

    Fascinating about St George with Zeus and Typhon, especially how many associate the symbolism of Michael and the serpent with Apollon. I just think they are both interesting correlations 🙂 Fascinating post!


  2. henadology permalink
    March 31, 2012 12:32 PM

    The word Za was supposed to be the corrupted form of the word zoa (animals) as the Cretans call their sheep and goats.

    Zan and Zas are attested dialect forms of the name Zeus, so there is no need to posit a derivation via zoa, though I find a primary association between Zeus and , “to live” irresistible. This association, favored by Plato in his Cratylus (396a-c), tends to get overshadowed by a perhaps excessive valuation of the Indo-European etymology by which Sanskrit gets its Dyaus and English gets “day”. I think they’re both valid, because I don’t think there’s a one-to-one correspondence of divine names to words; but the association with “life” is certainly appropriate to Zeus Georgos.


    • March 31, 2012 2:16 PM

      My hero…I had wondered about that as it didn’t feel right but left it in as a complete quote. I assume zo and zoe are the same words?

      I have the feeling that “Ni Za” is going to creep into my language whether I will it or no…


  3. April 9, 2012 9:25 AM

    Comment received on another forum: “Wow, this is amazing. I have another association with the figure of St. George, by way of Nigel Pennick (who is much better at making symbolic connections than factual ones): the act of spearing the dragon, especially in the way it’s depicted in the later icons, can represent the “geomantic” act of erecting a pillar (tree) at just the right spot to create or preserve or identify the energetic omphalos of a settlement. Pennick has collected a lot of lore on this presently ill-understood art.”


  4. April 9, 2012 9:27 AM

    Comment received on another forum: “I imagine that many of the St. George syncretisms are completely relative to the culture/nation that holds them. In Bulgaria, where St. George is a patron saint, He is closely associated with the “Thracian Rider” (e.g. Sabazios, in almost all cases) and is still honored as such today. From what I’ve been told, every church and monastery in the country has George iconified in some grand way, and it is not uncommon to round a corner in an old city and find an ancient Thracian relief of the the “Rider”, who to many is simply the archaic form of St. George.”



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