ZINIO logo

Ancient Gods

Ancient Gods

Explore the fascinating gods of the ancient world and find out about their myths, rites, temples and worship. Learn about the polytheistic beliefs of the ancient Sumerians, Canaanites, Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Celts, Norse and pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons, and discover some of their most evocative sacred stories, locations and figures. Plus, investigate the secret world of household deities and be amazed by the weird quirks and bizarre responsibilities of some of the strangest gods in history.

Lire plus
United Kingdom
Future Publishing Ltd
6,93 €(TVA Incluse)

dans ce numéro

2 min
history of the gods

Whatever your view of religion, it is impossible to deny the power of the divine in human history. In the earliest written texts of the Sumerians from over 3000 BCE the gods spring out fully formed. Even before the invention of writing, then, humans had been worshipping a variety of deities, and as soon as they were able to they wrote about them. Of the gods that existed before written accounts, all we are left with is a handful of haunting images of lost gods that archaeologists pull from the ground. It is sometimes easy to mock the ancient gods. For early Christian authors they were small things. “Who needs a god of hinges?” Saint Augustine asked Romans who prayed to Cardea. When even a scratch could cause a deadly infection,…

2 min
timeline: a history of the gods

38,000 BCE Lion (wo)Man Discovered in a cave in Germany this statue of a half-lion, half-human is the earliest known example of figurative art. The Löwenmensch figurine is carved from mammoth ivory and may represent an early spirit or deity. 9000 BCE The first temple? Around 9,000 years ago at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, hunter-gatherers came together to erect one of the world’s first religious monuments. For around 2,000 years the site was used and added to before being abandoned and deliberately buried. 3000 BCE Sumerians write it down We know complex religions existed before the invention of writing because as soon as the Sumerians created cuneiform they wrote down stories of deities as elaborate as any that would come later. 2400 BCE Pyramid Texts In Egyptian pyramids, long spells and rituals were carved into the walls. Their aim was to…

5 min
digging for deities

Until relatively recently, many of the ancient religions of the world were lost and forgotten. References in classical texts might give a hint of the pantheons but often these were skewed by the views of their authors. Herodotus claimed to have heard about Egyptian gods from priests but then described them as if they were Greek deities. The voices of the priests themselves were silenced. All that changed in the 19th century. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone by Napoleon’s soldiers in 1799 gave us a direct view into ancient Egypt. On this stone is written the same inscription in three languages: Greek, Demotic, and Hieroglyphic. With Greek well understood and Demotic translated, it was possible for scholars to work out how to read hieroglyphics. Thousands of inscriptions suddenly became clear,…

1 min
underground cults

Across the Roman world, strange underground temples have been discovered dedicated to the little-known god Mithras. Part of the reason Mithras is so little known is because members of his cult were sworn to secrecy about his worship. To reconstruct what took place in his cave-like temples historians must rely on the scant clues left in archaeological record. A Mithraeum temple mostly follows exactly the same layout. Usually Mithraea were created from existing caves or constructed so as to look like caverns with a single entrance leading into a long chamber that ends with an altar or stone relief. Along the sides of the chamber are two banks of seats. The most striking feature is the carved image of Mithras found at the heart of every temple. Known as the Tauroctony…

5 min
the long reach of old gods

While many religions have viewed the divine as standing outside of the universe, and so immune from change, it cannot be argued that gods do not evolve. Our ideas about deities can alter radically as society adapts to radically new situations. Wherever humans go they take their gods, and humans have gone in many strange directions. Some of the ways that humans have used gods are trivial, but even they can have unintended consequences. The Egyptian goddess Isis was widely worshipped in the Mediterranean before falling out of fashion with the coming of Christianity. Yet recent decades saw her revival, when Isis was adopted as a girl’s name in several countries. Until 2014 the name was a mildly popular, if still unconventional, one. That changed with the rise of the terrorist…

1 min
st brigid – celtic goddess

St Brigid, one of the patron saints of Ireland, is not the sort of person one would associate with pagan religion. A holy nun born in the 5th century, she was notoriously charitable, and miraculous events followed her throughout her life. When a pagan attempted to feed the infant Brigid the child rejected the impure milk, but a mysterious cow appeared to feed her (presumably pure) milk. It was Brigid who is said to have helped found monasticism in Ireland. That is, if she ever existed. St Brigid shares an uncanny number of similarities to an ancient Celtic goddess who also happens to be called Brigid. Both are associated with holy wells. Both are celebrated on 1 February: St Brigid on her feast day, and Brigid at Imbolc, the pagan spring…