Mt. Olympus & Dion, Greece – 2/2014
Perhaps you have never noticed that over the millennia, religion has been at the forefront of all history. Before “history” was even recorded there were poems and stories, learned, repeated, changed and eventually accepted as fact. Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad are classic examples. Since there were no cameras or other means of recording what “was”, all religion in some way are based on mythology and the interpretation of mythology.
Gods are in great part created and sustained by the number of people who believe in them. Take Pachamama for example. Pachamama is a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. She is also known as the earth/time mother. In Incan mythology, Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting, embodies the mountains, and causes earthquakes. She is also an ever-present and independent deity who has her own self-sufficient and creative power to sustain life on this earth. Even today, a building cannot be built in cities like La Paz, Bolivia, before a llama fetus is buried under the corner stone to receive the blessing of Pachamama. (We did have a witch doctor bless a llama fetus that we carried over the Andes from Bolivia to Chile and around South America. Why take a chance?)
Back to Ancient Greece: An unverifiable number of centuries ago, after Cronus had usurped control of the heavens from his father Ouranos, religion was on the move. I’ll spare you the gory details of how Cronus ate all of his children, but one boy was saved when his mother tricked Cronus by wrapping a stone in a blanket. The baby was whisked off to a cave on the Island of Crete where he was raised by the primeval goddess Gaia (Earth). In some versions the young god was suckled by the Nymph Amaltheia who may have been a goat. You gotta love mythology!
Following this line of Greek “history”, Zeus, the son of Cronus, on reaching adulthood, made his father cough back up the children he had swallowed and Zeus then married his sister Hera, as the story goes. You can find this information in books of similar size as the Bible and Koran. Interestingly, Zeus is mentioned in the Bible two times, first in Acts 14:8-13: and again in Acts 28:11:
Zeus became the king of the Olympian gods and the supreme deity in Greek religion some 800 years BC. When the Romans came to power, they were also polytheists. Polytheists are people who believe in many gods. Zeus was essentially renamed Jupiter and other Greek gods were given Roman names.
Often referred to as the Father, as the god of thunder and the ‘cloud-gatherer’, he controlled the weather, offered signs and omens and generally dispensed justice, guaranteeing order amongst both the gods and humanity from his seat high on Mt. Olympus. That’s where we locked the hubs, trepidaciously shifted into four-wheel drive, and headed into a gathering snowstorm.
At length, we were stopped at a gate beyond which only foot traffic was allowed to reach the peak of Mt. Olympus. We had visited the cave where Zeus was raised, marveled at the temples built in his honor in Athens, and now with still twelve countries to travel through including Tajikistan and the Wakhan Corridor along the Afghanistan border, we felt obliged to pay him a visit. We couldn’t sacrifice a couple of bulls, but at least we got as close to Zeus as we could, not knowing if he was even home.
More history. About 30AD, a holy man named Jesus began to attract a following in Jerusalem. Jesus’ followers came to believe that he was the son of the God of the Jews and that he performed miracles. Christianity began as a small movement in the city of Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judea. Emperor Constantine ended persecution of Christians when he seized power in 306AD. Four years later, he made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire. He continued to worship Roman gods himself, though on his deathbed, in 337AD, he had himself baptized a Christian. (Why take a chance?) Slowly Zeus slipped into the history books. We have heard he still has a following in Greece.
Slithering down the wet snow-covered road to the valley, we came to Dion. This ancient city owes its name to the most important Macedonian sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, leader of the gods who dwelt on Mount Olympus. From very ancient times, a large altar had been set up for the worship of Olympian Zeus and his daughters, the Muses. It was the place where the kings made splendid sacrifices to celebrate the new year of the Macedonian calendar at the end of September. Philip II and Alexander the Great celebrated victories here, and Alexander assembled his armies and performed magnificent sacrifices here on the eve of his campaign to Asia in 334BC.
Typical ceremonies were called a “hecatomye” and were offered to Greek gods Apollo, Athena, Hera and, of course, Zeus.
“During these special religious ceremonies, when they had done praying and sprinkling the barley-meal around, they drew back the heads of the victims, (a hundred bulls), and killed and flayed them. They then cut out the thigh-bones, wrapped them round in two layers of fat, set some pieces of raw meat on the top of them, and then [the priest] laid them on the wood fire and poured wine over them, while the young men stood near him with five-pronged spits in their hands. When the thigh-bones were burned and they had tasted the inward meats, they cut the rest up small, put the pieces upon the spits, roasted them till they were done, and drew them off. Then, when they had finished their work and the feast was ready, they ate it, and every man had his full share, so that all were satisfied. As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink, pages filled the mixing-bowl with wine and water and handed it round, after giving every man his drink-offering. Thus all day long the young men worshipped the god with song, hymning him and chanting the joyous paean, and the god took pleasure in their voices.”