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Tag: Themis–A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion

Dead Men, Hollow Ghosts

” … But profoundly as I also feel the value of the religious impulse, so keenly do I feel the danger and almost necessary disaster of each and every creed and dogma.

For the material of religion is essentially the uncharted, the ungrasped, as Herbert Spencer would say, though with a somewhat different connotation, the ‘unknowable.’

Further, every religious dogma errs in two ways. First, it is a confident statement about something unknown and therefore practically always untrustworthy; secondly, if it were right and based on real knowledge, then its subject-matter would no longer belong to the realm of religion; it would belong to science or philosophy.

To win new realms for knowledge out of the unknown is part of the normal current of human effort; but to force intellectual dogma upon material which belongs only to the realm of dim aspiration is to steer for a backwater of death.

In that backwater lies stranded many an ancient galley, haunted by fair figures of serene Olympians, and even, it must be said, by the phantom of Him—the Desire of all nations—who is the same yesterday, to-day and for ever.

The stream of life flows on, a saecular mystery; but these, the eidola of man’s market-place, are dead men, hollow ghosts.”

Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis–A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, 1912, p. xix.

Snake Kings

“The myths of the heroes of Athens, from Cecrops to Theseus, show them as kings, that is as functionaries, and, in primitive times, these functionaries assume snake-form. The daimon-functionary represents the permanent life of the group.

The individual dies, but the group and its incarnation the king survive. Le roi est mort, vive le roi. From these two facts, of group permanency and individual death, arose the notion of reincarnation, palingenesia.

Moreover, since the group included plants and animals as well as human members, and these were linked by a common life, the rebirth of ancestors and the renewed fertility of the earth went on pari passu.

Hence the Intichiuma ceremonies of Central Australians, hence the Revocation of ghosts at the Athenian Antkesteria. Gradually, as the group focussed on its king, the daimones of fertility, the collective ancestors, focussed on to an Agathos Daimon, a spirit of fertility, again figured as a snake.”

Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis–A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, 1912. P. xiv.

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