Gods Apart

Generally speaking there is often the desire to make representations of the gods look as much like us as possible by which we may attribute set features to our gods to look as we may think is ultimately the most attractive. The gods imagery are held up to be examples of the most beautiful and perfect form. Certainly this can seem to be as a page taken from Athenian culture. The Pelopenesse aside, Hellenes seemed to often focus on imagery of the gods to reflect people. Pan held as an exception. It is from this mindframe we have some of the most beautiful statues perserved and frescoes. This has, I think, as the Hellenic culture is one that most have early exposure to, made an impression on how we see the gods and relate to them. Often the result can give the appearance of an ethnic tug of war in which people have been known to argue of what kind of racial/ethnic coloring a god has. This gets to be a mess especially when said gods were considered by the ancient peoples as creators of humanity as a whole typically ( there of course are exceptions). As such gods were fluidly identified with each other across cultures, and therefore beyond literal and exclusive ethnic identities.

Of course when attempting to homd Hellas up as an example of gods portraying highest form of beauty to the cultural standards, this discounts imagery of the gods among the Doric peoples and in the Pelopenesse in general where we have not gods appearing in perfect human or animal forms but mixed. Here Pan is lauded, here Apollon and Zeus are horned. Demeter has a horse head, Artemis is flanked by horse heads and in Sparta was considered of particularly frightful visage. The images of the gods take up more complex symbolism. For instance Pausanias mentions too an image bearing four ears in Sparta. It is a reminder that although we are from the gods, the gods are not us. Their form is not so limited as our biology.

I confess I had never given it much thought before. In my youth the more abstract forms of Egyptian and Hindu gods seemed so impersonal to me that I could not relate to them. It was not until I was in my late twenties that I finally got it. Even though I had broken away from Christianity at the age of 14, a childhood filled with very humanoid christian imagery, and my early worship of the gods with popular classical imagery had its due influence of molding my religious experience. It was not until I went to Greece that it started loosing its grip when a friend informed me while I was visiting that she prefered the more abstract images of the gods over the classical, as the gods are not human. This conversation planted the seed that has finally sprouted as I am coming to appreciate the complexity of the gods through their symbols.

And a break from racial identification has become important to me. It is easier to feel a sense of belonging to a ethnically european culture when you are caucasian. You not only can relate to the ethnic markers in the imagery, but are also socially supported by coworshippers quickly without questions arising. Yet I have known many coworshipers who are not caucasian . They worship the same gods… so why should my art disclude them?

This has become even more important in my own household imagery as I have a biracial baby. Is it fair to represent the gods to her as fair in coloring? My household gods therefore lack ethnic coloring. They are painted in symbolic colors. My Apollon statue is black to represent his fertile nature with gold hair,white and gold lips, gold throat and gold finger tips all to represent that he issues forth all divine light and its qualities of truth and reason. And his adorned in white and blue and other symbolic colors. Honestly I almost made him blue to represent the twilight sky but his eyes and cloak covered that enough. He does not look Greek, he does not look like any man. He looks like a symbol of my god. Far greater than any man regardless of the state of limited human perfection. And this works for me.

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One thought on “Gods Apart

  1. I do not understand why this is so easily overlooked by far too many people. I don’t know if it’s because Poseidon for so long used non-anthropomorphic imagery with me (because the way to my heart was not necessarily to look human) or if it’s because of my own background, but the anthropomorphic imagery was something I had to work at being okay with, at getting as much from as from other forms of imagery. To then tack on to subject matters of ethnicity . . . . bah. Even in places where the gods are considered part of the tribe, as our Elder Kin, I don’t understand ethnicity playing much of a role, in terms of who gets to worship whom. (If They are real, with real desires, whims, goals, etc., don’t They get to decide who They want?)

    I love that this is going to be expanding into your art. I think blue is a fabulous color, but then, you know that. 😉

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