Syncretism as a Tool

In my foray with syncretism I have discovered that syncretism, while it fits nicely into one’s philosophy and general understanding of a deity, it is otherwise rather difficult and unwieldy as a construct of worship. I discovered that in my attempt for a syncretic worship of Apollon and Siva into a singular Siv-apollon that while it fit neatly in my spiritual understandings and spiritual outlook that it was frankly a pain in the ass to make a cultural merger without sacrificing beautiful things about each one’s ethnic worship. Some may say that such sacrifices are worthwhile and necessary, and that they did in fact happen in areas where such syncretism did occur. My observation is that in such areas though it was as an entirely new birth of a being that was called by one way or another depending on the people talking abut the syncretic deity. For instance, an image of Siva or Apollon in accordance with my syncretic view I could talk about using either name depending on what cultural standpoint I am representing or audience I am speaking to, but I usually only refer to the deity as one or the other even with the same image and cultural cult. Here I saw the true value of syncretism, not as something to particularly change my worship into a thing which completely and adequately  addresses singularly both cultural forms of the deity, but rather a manner of deepening my understanding of the deity in the ways that one culture may expresses more thoroughly than another culture, or further elaborate upon, specific traits of a given deity. My worship otherwise remains separate. The small naga image that I got to represent Leto I call Leto, even though recognizing is cultural original and form of the image. The small image of Annapurna is present is called Artemis as a nurturing goddess even as recognizing the syncretic tie between Artemis and Parvati of whom Annapurna is a specific form. Even the dancing Nataraja figure is quite meaningful to me as a representation of Apollon is very specific ways in association with his cult that I have discussed in a previous post.

I think that this very pertinent to how ancient cultures identified their deities as manifesting in other cultures and pantheons. A person for instance who recognized a goddess in a foreign land and called her Artemis would continue to call her Artemis, and locals and other foreigners in cases of prominent internationally celebrated cults in communication with Greeks would likewise call her Artemis to express the deity as the Greeks saw her, and even make inscriptions side by with their own names and titles addressing her as this same deity in instances of conjoined communities. This did not change the fundamental native cult, which due to similarities of cult and syncretic understanding of the deity would still be seen as a cult of Artemis. Thus it could be said that one a level, as a syncretic deity that something new was formed from the merger of the two identities but wholly recognized in cult and worship as one or the other at a given time in practical worship and address.

As such we know that the Greek created too certain mythic relationships in their syncretic view of the gods that had nothing to do with the native cult and was a way of further explaining the Hellenic cult. This was particularly useful when discussing the mysteries for instance. It is of no wonder that the Hellenes who saw their Demeter as bearing the same nature as Aset whom they called Isis most probably due to the fertility and grain/plant bearing quality of the earth, and Apollon bearing a similar nature of Heru, or Horus whom the Hellenes already recognized as poetically associated with the falcon, and even the nurturing fierce feline quality of Bast that would have aligned with some of their ideas of Artemis. None of these are perfect syncretism as anyone could provide a list as to why not. A big one on it being that these were not considered twins of Isis as explained by Greeks. Yet this corruption of myth in syncretism was favored to explain a Hellenic mystery in which Apollon and Artemis were regarded as children of Demeter, and Leto’s identification with Wadjet as their nurse explained how the Hellenes saw their gods in more mystical sense in a way that is hinted at but they don’t really want to spell out, especially regarding the exotic mystic nature for which Egyptian religion was regarded.

As such the syncretism of Demeter with Isis tells us a lot….not particularly about Isis coming from a Greek perspective,  but rather about how the Demeter was regarded. Cross cultural comparison is a very useful tool in order to get a more adequate expression for the strongest yet subtle characteristics of the gods. Demeter doesn’t seem to get much mythic attention outside of the mythic cycle regarding the rape of Persephone, yet her association with Isis richly spells out the kind of strength and power and qualities of Demeter in her cult and worship more than Hellenic myth does by itself. Same for Leto, whom with her association with Isis and fragments of her known cult in different parts of the Hellenic world we see a very vital and essentially nurturing chthonic goddess. Apollon’s swift and lethal militaristic nature is played up in his association with Horus, as well as his later dominant solar cult, in addition to the prominence of his healing nature. Artemis’s nurturing side is emphasized with Bast in which in representation of a cat rather than a lion more commonly associated with the cult of Artemis can well illustrate the constructive and benevolent feline nature that aids humans. This unifies her huntress and nurse qualities in a way we do not otherwise see directly. This of course just a very brief and incomplete example to illustrate my point here.

As such even if syncretism is not a spelled out thing in one’s worship in every address and actual oof wrship, as a tool it can potentially serve a very fulfilling and vital purpose for those who recognize deities cross culturally but prefer not to mix worship.  As such I see syncretism as a tool for worship rather than a manner of worship in and of itself. A valuable tool all the same. As a tool it is most useful as a way as used by the ancients…as a way to express the deity in a way that is not the most common or popularity. This is particularly useful when dealing with icons that more adequately express certain characteristics of emphasis that is in common in surviving imagery, even as it is useful for building as philosophic-spiritual concepts regarding the gods, and other aesthetics of worship.

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