Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Little Mythology

Filipinos have a strange drinking ritual. They spill the first shot of liquor to earth followed by a short prayer “drink is for the stomach and not for the head, this is for the devil so he may leave us sober”. This ritual is common among the poor gin-bulag drinkers. But this practice is a little strange and paganistic for a supposedly Christian nation.

Dionysus was the Greek god of wine. Together with Demeter they were the two great gods of the earth. Demeter was the god of corn and it is through her that human settlements became established. The daily survival of the primitive Greeks depended on her benevolence. With the establishment of settlements vineyards later came. And it is natural that with the divine feminine power that brought forth grains, the vineyards would be attributed to a masculine deity. It is also natural that every first harvest of grains was offered to the goddess of the harvest, and the first drops of wines were also offered to the god of wine. The Greeks spills to earth the first pouring of wines in honor of Dionysus. Is this linked with the Filipinos practice of pouring the first shot of drinks to earth? Or are they just co-incident?

Mythologies are fascinating especially the classical Greek myths. The adventures of their gods and their love affairs, passions and tempers, and even their limitations reflect the Greek conception of the world. In Iliad the Trojan War best illustrates the behavior of the classical gods. (The demythologized movie version of the war unfortunately lost the essence, the beauty, and the poetry of the story. Why demythologize a mythology?) Here you have Eris, the god of discord, resentful at not being invited at a wedding banquet (well, if you’re a god of discord you have to be open to the fact that no one will invite you), throwing a golden apple marked “for the fairest” at the wedding banquet of King Peleus the father of Achilles. There was a melee but eventually the choice was narrowed down to three goddesses Aphrodite, the god of love; Hera, the sister and the jealous wife of Zeus; and Pallas Athena, the mighty huntress. Zeus was asked to settle the dispute but he declined for even a god of his stature cannot appease a woman scorned especially goddesses-- he knew very well that women had this propensity to unite against a common critic. Instead he pointed them to the best judge of beauty: Paris, the Prince of Troy. Paris decided in favor of Aphrodite in exchange for the most beautiful face in the world Helen, the daughter of Zeus. Helen was meant for King Menelaus the king of Sparta and when Menelaus found Helen gone, taken by the treacherous prince of Troy, he rallied the Greeks to siege the Trojans. Thus the judgment of Paris started the Trojan War. This if we follow Iliad is really an Olympian war.

The Trojan War best represents the psychology of the Greek gods. They are fickle minded, childish, petty and unpredictable. They are treacherous and amoral. They treat humanity contemptuously and didn’t deserve their attention except as an object of amorous desire. They don’t have any plan for humanity hence salvation and immortality were never meant for them except for those they whimsically chosen.

Mythologies are man’s miniature world. Mythologies represents how man understand natural phenomena, his helplessness at dealing with powers that transcends his understandings, and it also represents his conception of fate and destiny—out of his hands and beyond his controls. For surely the power of the unknown is man’s greatest fear. To overcome this trepidation man gives these forces personalities—human temperament, frailties and strengths. They humanized the unknown and made it their own. Unfortunately mythology is not divine revelation it is blind desperation thus it cannot offer what man yearns for--salvation.

“Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are religious For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world…the Lord of heavens…
St. Paul in the meeting of the Areopagus*
Acts 17:22-24

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