Gods and Goddesses - Introduction
Gods and goddesses have been worshiped throughout history. Western civilization is most familiar with the gods and goddesses from Egypt, Greece and Rome. Growing up, we all remember hearing stories of these ancient deities and their mythological relationship with human beings. In school, we learned the history of these ancient cultures and the importance they placed on the worship of various gods and goddesses. How did the worship of these deities develop in these ancient cultures?
Gods and Goddesses - Egypt's Pre-dynastic History
The gods and goddesses of Egypt represent over 50 separate deities, most of which date back to pre-dynastic times. The ancient tribes that made up the region worshiped their own particular gods, which were normally embodied by animals. As Egyptian civilization advanced, the deities took on human characteristics. In many cases, the gods and goddesses were depicted with human bodies, while retaining animal heads. By the beginning of the Old Kingdom Dynasty (3100 BC), a national religion developed out of the primitive tribal and local religions. However, ongoing changes in political power resulted in the changing status of Egyptian deities. Generally, as different cities or regions became politically dominant, their particular god or goddesses also became dominant.
Gods and Goddesses - The Egyptian Creation Myths
Many of the gods and goddesses of Egypt find their origin in several of the Egyptian creation myths. These myths attempted to explain the Egyptians' place in the cosmos based on the observation of natural processes. This was particularly true with respect to the Nile River and its flood patterns. The flooding of the Nile was critical for Egyptian civilization. As a result, gods and goddesses identified with nature became prevalent in the Egyptian creation myths. Some of the most common creation myths refer to Nu or Nun, describing the churning sea of chaos that existed before creation. Out of this chaos rose the Egyptian sun god Ra. Ra then created deities that were both male and female. In turn, these deities gave birth to more deities, and the newly created gods and goddesses were responsible for the creation of the physical world. Ra was also responsible for the creation of mankind. One creation myth refers to mankind being created from the tears of Ra.
Gods and Goddesses - The History of Greek Mythology
Gods and goddesses are an integral part of Greek mythology. Our formal knowledge of the ancient Greek deities can be traced back to the writings of Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey (8th century BC). In addition, many scholars believe that the myths were heavily influenced by the Mycenaean culture that existed in Greece between 1700 and 1100 BC. Remarkably, there is evidence that the beginnings of Greek mythology can be traced back to the ancient Middle Eastern cultures of Mesopotamia and Anatolia. There are many similarities between the mythology of these ancient Middle Eastern cultures and the ancient Greeks.
Gods and Goddesses - The Religious & Social Background of the Greeks
The gods and goddesses of ancient Greece were created by man to explain the world around them, act as a means of exploration, provide legitimacy and authority to Greek aristocracy, and provide entertainment for the masses. The religion of the ancient Greeks did not have a single source of written scripture such as the Bible or the Qur'an. Furthermore, the ancient Greeks did not believe in absolute truth as practiced by modern faiths such as Christianity and Judaism. Generally, a Greek city-state would devote itself to a particular god or set of gods. Many city-states erected temples to their particular deities, and these deities were honored in festivals and animal sacrifices. The Greek gods and goddesses normally took on human form and lived in a society similar to human society. They exhibited all the emotions of human beings and frequently intervened in human history. The most significant difference between the Greek gods and humans was that the gods were immortal and human beings were not.
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