Although the Magna Mater may have been the earliest type of
deity to be worshiped, she was eventually accompanied by a
Many male deities remained minor in comparison to their wives
or lovers: Dumuzi, Attis, and Adonis are a few.
In many cultures, however, gods rose to preeminence and
gained equal or superior status to goddesses.
Some sociologists such as Marija Gimbutas think this trends
reflects a shift from matriarchal to patriarchal cultures, but this
theory cannot be proven or disproven.
The attempted eradication of the feminine divine did not come about
until the advent of monotheism. When the ideology of a sole deity was
established in the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the god
was referred to as “he” and the feminine was highly minimized.
Yahweh, however, evolving from the Semitic/Canaanite god “El,”
originally had a wife named Anath. In addition, deity is also referred
to as “Elohim” in Hebrew scripture—a word both feminine and plural.
In Christianity, the Virgin Mary became a weakened version of the
maiden and mother, but never ages into the crone.
Modern paganism, including Wicca, Druidism, and Asatru, have
returned to polytheism and the duality of deity. Other religions such as
Hinduism never lost the concept of the goddess or polytheism.
The earliest documented “case” of monotheism (from
records of the time) occurred in the eighteenth
dynasty of Egypt when the heretic pharaoh Akhnaten
(1372-1354 BCE) declared Aten, the sun disk, as the
sole divine. Egypt returned to polytheism when
Akhnaten (mysteriously) died.
Other cultures remained polytheistic for thousands of
Upper Paleolithic: The Sorcerer of
As with goddesses, researchers must rely on iconography and
archetypal associations for information about gods in preliterate
One icon is dubbed “The Sorcerer of Trois Frere,” an ice age figure
found drawn on a cave wall in Trois Frere, France.
The picture is of an anthropomorphic creature—half human and
containing aspects of several other animals.
From its head sprouts antlers, setting a
trend for “Horned Gods” that still
The eyes are owlish and the tail is
Circa 13,000 BCE
It is not clear whether the figure is of a
dancing god or a human, but the antlers
—associated with horned gods—
suggest a connection to deity. Other
artwork from the same period show the
same type of anthropomorphic figures.
The figures might have been used for
“sympathetic magic,” to ensure a good
Another figure from the cave of
Gabillou (Dordogne)—a composite
creature, half-man and half bison .
Anthropomorphic deities were
common in the myths of Egypt and
somewhat in Sumeria, but in Classical
Greek myth, Pan remains as one of
the few half-animal/half-human gods.
Creatures such as the centaurs were
not gods, though they were immortal.
As humanity progressed, it often
sought to separate itself from the
unearthed figures of
gods/men as well as
This figure portrays a
male riding a leopard.
The Sun Gods
Gods were most often connected with the sun; if the earth was the
mother, the sky became the father. There were exceptions to this, such
as the portrayal of the earth as male (Geb) and the sky as female (Nut)
in Egyptian myth. Also, in Norse myth, the sun was pulled by a
goddess, Sunna or Sol, and the moon is male, Mani. Sumeria also had
a moon god, Nanna.
But even in Egypt, the sun was distinctly male: Ra (Re) or Aten.
Ra and Aten
Ra guided his sun-boat across the sky during
the day and through Tuat, the netherworld, at
night. Aten was the actual disk of the sun.
Apollo and Helios
The tradition of the sun “vehicle” is
In Greek myth, Apollo or his son,
Helios, drove a chariot carrying the
Apollo was the god of logic/reason.
He was not always so rational,
however, causing Daphne to pray to
be turned into a tree rather than be
raped by him.
The sun was more than just light to see by, it symbolized rationality
and logic. We still “see the light” when we come to a realization.
Sudden enlightenment is also cartoonishly portrayed by a light bulb
coming on over a person’s head.
Mithra was originally a Persian and
Indian god, but around 300 BCE he
became the patron god of the Roman
Mithra was called “sol invictus,” the
He shares many parallels with Jesus,
including a virgin birth in Armenian
lore and a December 25th
The most common depiction of Mithras is the killing of the bull.
The tauroctony or taurobolium is highly reminiscent of Attis and Cybele’s
rite of initiation and is the most prevalent icon of the Mithraic religion.
Mithras also has a last dinner with his compatriots and descends to heaven
right after dining.
The Horned Gods
Goddesses such as Isis and Inanna were often portrayed with horns, but
in other myth, gods also sported horns or antlers.
The tradition of the horned deity most likely has roots in the Sorcerer
of Trois Frere. It demonstrates a close association with nature and
•Pan is highly licentious and known for
chasing women. He is bawdy in nature
because he is highly influenced by his
•Strangely enough, the other Greek gods
who do not have goat appendages are
equally as bawdy—but unlike Pan, they are
Cernunnos Cernunnos is a little documented
god of the Celts. His name
means “the horned one.”
Like many other deities
including Christ and Mithra, the
Horned God is often born at the
winter solstice. He dies, also
like many other gods, and is
reborn on a yearly basis.
One of the best depictions of Cernunnos is from the Gundestrup cauldron
found in Denmark.
Cernunnos was mainly a Gaulish deity, but he was obviously known in
Denmark and in the British Isles.
He is titled “Lord of the Animals” and has a close association with
In the Gundestrup scene, he bears a very close
resemblance to a Hindu deity, Pashupati, Lord of the
There are other horned
characters of mythology:
notably, the Minotaur!
Although the Minotaur is not a
deity, he is reminiscent of Pan,
ruled by his “beast” side.
It has been said that the gods of
an old religion become the
demons of the new religion; this
is certainly true in the case of
the Horned Gods.
Christians adopted the image of
Horned Gods and applied it to
the image of Satan.
Interestingly enough, Satan is
not described as such in
• The Devil has Pan’s goat
features and carries a
pitchfork/trident, symbol of
both Hades and Poseidon.
• In some depictions of Moses,
he is also shown wearing
horns, but this was a
mistranslation of Hebrew
Scripture; when Moses came
down from Sinai, that his face
was “transfigured” was
translated as he had “horns.”
Check it out at:
Miscellaneous resemblances of many gods include a virgin birth:
Mithra, Jesus, and Hephaestus among them. Often heroes such as
Perseus were fathered by anonymously by gods.
Another type is the “Holy Child,” image—the special child who is
intended for a great destiny. A modern myth also has this archetype:
Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars.
Another set of similar gods are those who deal with thunder, lightning,
and mountains. We still connect lightning with gods, saying “may
lightning strike if I am lying (or whatever wrongdoing).”
In Greek myth, Zeus is the thunder god who lives on Mt. Olympus.
In Judaism, Yahweh speaks to Moses in a burning bush on Mt. Sinai.
Thor is the lightning god in Norse myth; he lives in Asgard, the
topmost level of the nine worlds.
The earth largely remained the province of goddesses, but the sun and
thunder gods ruled the sky.
Brigit is the goddess of smiths in Celtic myth, but she has a male
counterpart named Waylon or Wayland.
Waylon was originally from Scandinavia where he was lamed in order
to keep him there.
Hephaestus is the lame god of smiths in Greek myth; he was so
important that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, was given tohim
in marriage. She was not a faithful wife, though.
Blacksmiths might have been deliberately lamed in order to keep them
in a village.
In the modern world, we do not understand the importance of smiths to
ancient cultures; without them, there were not only no swords, but no
pots, pans or other items made of metal.
The cycle of patricide exists in various mythologies. In this cycle, a father is
killed by his son; in turn, the son is often killed by his offspring.
The most famous acts of patricide occur in Greek myth wherein the Titan Uranus
is killed by his son, Cronos. Cronos is killed by Zeus.
Zeus forestalls his own deposition by a son when he swallows Metis whole.
In Norse myth, the frost giant Ymir is killed by Odin. Ymir is not Odin’s father,
but having arisen first out of the icy chasm, he is a prominent father figure.
Fathers are often not kind to their children, as well. Cronos swallowed each of
his children at birth in order to thwart the prophecy that one of his children
would kill him.
There are also accounts of matricide, including the death of Tiamat in Sumerian/
Dying and Resurrected Gods
Although goddesses such as Inanna and Persephone made the trip to the
underworld, it largely became the province of male deities.
The Dying and Resurrected God myth is one of the most common tale
shared by diverse cultures.
An entire module will be dedicated to this myth, but here is a preview.
Osiris might be the oldest
resurrecting god to be
recorded. He died at the
hands of his evil brother
Set and Isis, Osiris’ wife,
goes in search of him.
Even though Osiris comes
back to life, he cannot
live in the world of the
living so he becomes the
God of the Dead.
Dumuzi/Tammuz These two gods are
basically the same
(Inanna’s consort) in
Sumeria and Tammuz
(Ishtar and Astarte) in
Their tales differ, but
they both die, descend
to Kur, but are allowed
to live half the year
Dionysus died in a couple of
different myths, but rose again.
As Zagreus, he is torn apart and
eaten (except his heart) by Titans.
Zeus blasts the Titans with a
thunder bolt, the heart is saved
and Zagreus is reconstituted.
In another myth, he was hung on a
tree to die. (Odin also hung
himself on Yggdrasil in order to
Dionysus is best known to the
modern world as the god of wine,
but he is god of much more.
He was gestated in Zeus’ thigh,
giving him a licentious nature like
Adonis was the beloved of
both Aphrodite and
Ares was jealous of Adonis
and sent a boar to gore him
Aphrodite mourned him so
much (although Persephone
was delighted to have him
in her realm) that Adonis
was allowed to divide his
time among the goddesses
plus a few months to spend
wherever he wished.
In Judaism, there is no resurrected god because there is only ONE god,
and he is incapable of dying, but the theme is so strong that Christianity
Jesus’ birth and death parallels that of many other deities.He breaks the
cycle, however, because after he resurrects, he does not return to the
earth on a yearly basis, but ascends to heaven to await a second coming
In Norse myth, Baldur is a much beloved god who dies at the
instigation of Loki.
Baldur descends to Hel and in the original tale, almost gets to ascend—
IF all of creation will weep for him. Loki spoils the deal by refusing to
Later myths have Baldur resurrecting after Ragnarok to lead the new
set of deities.
The Dying and Resurrected and the descent into the underworld is
common in most mythos including those of the Americas.
In Mayan myth, the Divine Twins descend to Xibalba to save their
In Mayan, Aztec, and North American Native myth, the resurrection
has to do with fertility and the maize/corn harvest.
The Green Man
The Green Man is another widespread archetypal image. “Green Man”
is a modern term, however, since we do not know of a specific name
that the ancients called him or even if he was a specific god. His image
is found from Egypt to India to the British Isles.
The Green Man is the Lord of Spring and Summer, connected with
fertility and fecundity (in Celtic myth, he alternates with the Holly
King, a winter counterpart).
The original Green Man was Osiris,
who is often depicted as having green
skin, symbolic of his association with
Later, the trademark of the Green Man
became the vegetation growing from his
mouth and ears.
From New Delhi
In Britain, images of the
Green Man abound, even
featured in Christian
Early Christianity often
incorporated pagan icons
in their ranks, and just as
often built churches over
ancient pagan shrines or
Green Man in Devon
For more information about Green Men, Mike
Harding has a great site:
As with goddess myths, the tales of gods are archetypal, shared by
many religions. Their similarities are too close to be discounted—but
the question still remains as to the reason for their similarities.