I believe that it is important to look at all stories in order to unearth the truth of things. For this reason, I don’t stick to simply reading the so-called “approved” lore. I read English translations of Greek and Latin poems and myths. I read fairy/folk tales. I read Indian stories – I am interested in all of it. To be more accurate, I am interested in finding the common threads that run between. Because I think that the truth gets scattered, breaks apart, and certain forms of it lodge in different faiths.
In some faiths, the truth gets distorted until it can no longer be recognized as what it once was. I had a conversation with one of my Christian friends the other day, and we were discussing whether or not Hell was even mentioned in the Bible. Because even though I’m pagan/heathen (whatever the hell you want to label me), I have read the Bible. Like I said, I try to read everything I can that relates to spirituality in some way. I don’t try to put myself inside a box when I am doing my own exploration – I will put myself in a box to make it easier to explain to other people what I believe because it’s a lot easier to say “I’m pagan” than it is to explain that I am a pantheist, polytheist, animist, eclectic pagan who primarily follows the Norse gods.
Anyway, as we were discussing the fact that the Bible doesn’t mention Hell – seriously, we researched it to make sure we were remembering correctly – and what we found was that except for 1 or 2 instances, the word “Hell” was originally translated as “Hades.” And “Hades,” for those unaware, was the Greek underworld, and was synonymous with the word “grave.” So, why are so many Christians so adamant about not going to Hell? Because a truth – the word Hades/grave – has been distorted until it’s no longer recognizable as the truth it originated as.
And that truth is that everyone dies, that everyone goes to the grave – that is pretty much the sole way it is used throughout the entire Christian Bible. But try to mention that to any Christian (who isn’t liberally minded like my friend), and they will either laugh in your face or go on this long spiel about the fire-and-brimstone type of hell that (especially) Southern Baptists are so fond of.
But the Christian Bible isn’t the only place we can find bits of truths. Every faith has something in it that is accurate, and sometimes the similarities can be striking. In the Poetic Edda, in the Voluspo, the Seer details the creation of the world. Below, this is what the Latin Ovid had to say on the matter:
OF bodies chang’d to various forms, I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring,
Inspire my numbers with coelestial heat;
‘Till I my long laborious work compleat:
And add perpetual tenour to my rhimes,
Deduc’d from Nature’s birth, to Caesar’s times.
The Creation of Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball,
the World And Heav’n’s high canopy, that covers all,
One was the face of Nature; if a face:
Rather a rude and indigested mass:
A lifeless lump, unfashion’d, and unfram’d,
Of jarring seeds; and justly Chaos nam’d.
No sun was lighted up, the world to view;
No moon did yet her blunted horns renew:
Nor yet was Earth suspended in the sky,
Nor pois’d, did on her own foundations lye:
Nor seas about the shores their arms had thrown;
But earth, and air, and water, were in one.
Thus air was void of light, and earth unstable,
And water’s dark abyss unnavigable.
No certain form on any was imprest;
All were confus’d, and each disturb’d the rest.
For hot and cold were in one body fixt;
And soft with hard, and light with heavy mixt.
But God, or Nature, while they thus contend,
To these intestine discords put an end:
Then earth from air, and seas from earth were driv’n,
And grosser air sunk from aetherial Heav’n.
Thus disembroil’d, they take their proper place;
The next of kin, contiguously embrace;
And foes are sunder’d, by a larger space.
The force of fire ascended first on high,
And took its dwelling in the vaulted sky:
Then air succeeds, in lightness next to fire;
Whose atoms from unactive earth retire.
Earth sinks beneath, and draws a num’rous throng
Of pondrous, thick, unwieldy seeds along.
About her coasts, unruly waters roar;
And rising, on a ridge, insult the shore.
Thus when the God, whatever God was he,
Had form’d the whole, and made the parts agree,
That no unequal portions might be found,
He moulded Earth into a spacious round:
Then with a breath, he gave the winds to blow;
And bad the congregated waters flow.
He adds the running springs, and standing lakes;
And bounding banks for winding rivers makes.
Some part, in Earth are swallow’d up, the most
In ample oceans, disembogu’d, are lost.
He shades the woods, the vallies he restrains
With rocky mountains, and extends the plains.
And as five zones th’ aetherial regions bind,
Five, correspondent, are to Earth assign’d:
The sun with rays, directly darting down,
Fires all beneath, and fries the middle zone:
The two beneath the distant poles, complain
Of endless winter, and perpetual rain.
Betwixt th’ extreams, two happier climates hold
The temper that partakes of hot, and cold.
The fields of liquid air, inclosing all,
Surround the compass of this earthly ball:
The lighter parts lye next the fires above;
The grosser near the watry surface move:
Thick clouds are spread, and storms engender there,
And thunder’s voice, which wretched mortals fear,
And winds that on their wings cold winter bear.
Nor were those blustring brethren left at large,
On seas, and shores, their fury to discharge:
Bound as they are, and circumscrib’d in place,
They rend the world, resistless, where they pass;
And mighty marks of mischief leave behind;
Such is the rage of their tempestuous kind.
First Eurus to the rising morn is sent
(The regions of the balmy continent);
And Eastern realms, where early Persians run,
To greet the blest appearance of the sun.
Westward, the wanton Zephyr wings his flight;
Pleas’d with the remnants of departing light:
Fierce Boreas, with his off-spring, issues forth
T’ invade the frozen waggon of the North.
While frowning Auster seeks the Southern sphere;
And rots, with endless rain, th’ unwholsom year.
High o’er the clouds, and empty realms of wind,
The God a clearer space for Heav’n design’d;
Where fields of light, and liquid aether flow;
Purg’d from the pondrous dregs of Earth below.
Scarce had the Pow’r distinguish’d these, when streight
The stars, no longer overlaid with weight,
Exert their heads, from underneath the mass;
And upward shoot, and kindle as they pass,
And with diffusive light adorn their heav’nly place.
Then, every void of Nature to supply,
With forms of Gods he fills the vacant sky:
New herds of beasts he sends, the plains to share:
New colonies of birds, to people air:
And to their oozy beds, the finny fish repair.
A creature of a more exalted kind
Was wanting yet, and then was Man design’d:
Conscious of thought, of more capacious breast,
For empire form’d, and fit to rule the rest:
Whether with particles of heav’nly fire
The God of Nature did his soul inspire,
Or Earth, but new divided from the sky,
And, pliant, still retain’d th’ aetherial energy:
Which wise Prometheus temper’d into paste,
And, mixt with living streams, the godlike image cast.
Thus, while the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft; and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies.
From such rude principles our form began;
And earth was metamorphos’d into Man.
From Metamorphoses: Book I
Now, it’s important to understand that the Romans and the Greeks were pantheists before they were polytheists. A lot of people mistakenly assume that the Romans/Greeks simply believed in multiple gods, but that isn’t exactly true.
A pantheist is a person who believes in the idea of a single deity who can be found reflected in everything else. It’s generally referred to as the All-in-One and One-in-All theory, but I’ll try to expand on it a little in relation to the Greeks and Romans.
Most people are aware that the Greeks and Romans worshiped multiple gods, but what those same people don’t realize is that they viewed each of those gods as an embodied aspect of a greater being – the Source. In Indian lore, the Source is referred to as the Great Spirit. Very few peoples who we have been taught believed in a polytheistic pantheon viewed themselves as polytheists because they believed that everything was intertwined and interconnected. That each separated “deity” was simply an aspect of the Greater Deity.
It is for this reason that polytheism and monotheism are not really separate – people who identify as pure polytheists do not believe in the All-in-One (as a general statement). Most pure polytheists believe that there are multiple gods, perhaps related to each other, but separate in all the ways that matter. A pantheistic polytheist, on the other hand, believes that there are multiple god aspects of a single Greater Deity – the All-in-One approach.
Now that I’ve given you that background, if you review Ovid’s poem, then read the Voluspo in the Poetic Edda, there are striking similarities. Chaos is the Ginnungagap. The story of the giants is different, but it can be seen reflected in both places. And, if you are then courageous enough to review Genesis in the Christian Bible, you will see reflections there as well. (As a note, the “God created man in His image” is properly translated “God created man in OUR image” – do your own research if you don’t believe me).
And it is the startling similarities between the stories of different faiths that keeps me digging into them – because the stories, for the most part, are identical. Names change, the geographical locations change, but the plot of the stories, for the most part, is the same plot. To me, the fracturing of these stories – the lines that separate us – is an echo of the past. An echo that whispers to me of a time when there were no fractured lines – a time when people didn’t fight over what faith was “right” and what was “wrong.” A time when people lived in harmony. And it makes my heart ache. Because what was it that caused that splintering? What tragedy befell our world to throw us into this much chaos? The answer, I fear, is one that may forever elude me.