6. Sacrificial Gods, Sacred Kings, and Vegetation Deities
Okay, this is a little awkward. So, let’s start with a joke. (I think I saw this cartoon in Playboy years ago.) Imagine a large cementary, tombs and gravestone flowing off into the distance. In the foreground is a flying saucer and two cute little aliens. One of them with his eyes bugging out is staring at a large carved marble crucifix of our Lord in his Agony. You know the type graphic and unnerving. The horrified alien says to his buddy. “If that’s what they did to their god, just imagine what they will do to us!”
There are several “sacrifical gods” in Greek myth who “die” and are resurrected; most famously the demi-god/poet Orpheus, the goddess Persephone daughter of the grain-goddess Demeter, and the wine-god Dionysus. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about their cults;
“Orphism…is the name given to a set of religious beliefs and practices… associated with literature ascribed to the mythical poet Orpheus, who descended into Hades and returned. Orphics also revered Persephone (who annually descended into Hades for a season and then returned) and Dionysus...who also descended into Hades and returned. Orpheus was said to have invented the Mysteries of Dionysus…Classical sources, such as Plato, refer to "Orpheus-initiators" (Ὀρφεοτελεσταί), and associated rites… As in the Eleusinian mysteries, initiation into Orphic mysteries promised advantages in the afterlife.”
- So for those that don’t recall Orpheus entered Hell in order to rescue his wife Eurydice. Shortly after his failed attempt he was ripped apart and eaten by the female-followers of the wine-god Dionysus (Ovid Metamorphoses 10&11)
- As to Dionysus the early Christian writer Clement explains in, Exhortation to the Greeks 2. 15, that Dionysus was orgionally called Zagreus. As a child little Zagreus was ripped apart and eaten by Titans. His sister Athena managed to save his heart. Clement’s reference for all this is the Hymns of Orpheus. In due time Zagreus is resurrected this time under the name of Dionysus.
- Persephone daughter of the the grain-goddess had a little easier “death” and resurrection. She was abducted and forced into marriage by her Uncled Hades, Lord of the Dead. But she get to go hang out with her mom every so often on the surface. (Homeric Hymn to Demeter)
The point of these myths is this; if they made it to Hell and back, so can we. We join their mysteries follow the rituals and attain a happier place after death. Presumably the Elysian Fields or Isle of the Blest, but poets could be stoned to death for talking about this stuff too much, so we don’t know the specifics.
Here’s the awkward part of this conversation. A billion of us still worship one of these gods and perform the rituals. Annually, we kill Him. Annually, He is risen indeed. His body is ripped apart and eaten, often weekly. And on top of all that we drink His blood. (The ancient Egyptians ripped apart Osiris, the god of everything good and fed the good parts to the crocodiles. The vikings used Balder the god of everything good in Norse mythology for target practice until they accidently killed him.)