The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion
Page: 75The ancient Egyptians, far from restricting their adoration to cats and dogs and such small deer, very liberally extended it to men. One of these human deities resided at the village of Anabis, and burnt sacrifices were offered to him on the altars; after which, says Porphyry, he would eat his dinner just as if he were an ordinary mortal. In classical antiquity the Sicilian philosopher Empedocles gave himself out to be not merely a wizard but a god. Addressing his fellow-citizens in verse he said:
“O friends, in this great city that climbs the yellow
Of Agrigentum’s citadel, who make good works your scope,
Who offer to the stranger a haven quiet and fair,
All hail! Among you honoured I walk with lofty air.
With garlands, blooming garlands you crown my noble brow,
A mortal man no longer, a deathless godhead now.
Where e’er I go, the people crowd round and worship pay,
And thousands follow seeking to learn the better way.
Some crave prophetic visions, some smit with anguish sore
Would fain hear words of comfort and suffer pain no more.”
He asserted that he could teach his disciples how to make the wind to blow or be still, the rain to fall and the sun to shine, how to banish sickness and old age and to raise the dead. When Demetrius Poliorcetes restored the Athenian democracy in 307 B.C., the Athenians decreed divine honours to him and his father Antigonus, both of them being then alive, under the title of the Saviour Gods. Altars were set up to the Saviours, and a priest appointed to attend to their worship. The people went forth to meet their deliverer with hymns and dances, with garlands and incense and libations; they lined the streets and sang that he was the only true god, for the other gods slept, or dwelt far away, or were not. In the words of a contemporary poet, which were chanted in public and sung in private:
“Of all the gods the greatest and the dearest
To the city are come.
For Demeter and Demetrius
Together time has brought.
She comes to hold the Maiden’s awful rites,
And he joyous and fair and laughing,
As befits a god.
A glorious sight, with all his friends about him,
He in their midst,
They like to stars, and he the sun.
Son of Poseidon the mighty, Aphrodite’s son,
The other gods dwell far away,
Or have no ears,
Or are not, or pay us no heed.
But thee we present see,
No god of wood or stone, but godhead true.
Therefore to thee we pray.”
The ancient Germans believed that there was something holy in women, and accordingly consulted them as oracles. Their sacred women, we are told, looked on the eddying rivers and listened to the murmur or the roar of the water, and from the sight and sound foretold what would come to pass. But often the veneration of the men went further, and they worshipped women as true and living goddesses. For example, in the reign of Vespasian a certain Veleda, of the tribe of the Bructeri, was commonly held to be a deity, and in that character reigned over her people, her sway being acknowledged far and wide. She lived in a tower on the river Lippe, a tributary of the Rhine. When the people of Cologne sent to make a treaty with her, the ambassadors were not admitted to her presence; the negotiations were conducted through a minister, who acted as the mouthpiece of her divinity and reported her oracular utterances. The example shows how easily among our rude forefathers the ideas of divinity and royalty coalesced. It is said that among the Getae down to the beginning of our era there was always a man who personified a god and was called God by the people. He dwelt on a sacred mountain and acted as adviser to the king.