Welcome to the third post by guest writer Horatio Grin.. So far we have gone back to the age of dawn and the myths and legends of fairies.. then yesterday the Tales of the Old Gods. You will find the links to the previous posts at the end of today’s piece.
Today Horatio explores the fallibility of the various God nations attached to successive civilisations and offers some theories as to their final demise.
Part 3: Twilight of the Gods by Horatio Grin
Because the old myths speak of the gods as immortal, we assume they cannot be harmed. However there are stories of gods who suffer agonies, or are injured, disabled and even die. In Greek mythology Uranus was castrated. The Roman blacksmith god, Vulcan, was lame. Norse Odin lost an eye and the Irish king of the gods Nuada an arm. The Sumerian god Tammuz was murdered. Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt. While in the time of Christ, during the reign of Tiberius, a voice from the Greek mainland announced to a passing ship that the great god Pan was dead.
The story goes that Pan’s death was announced to a sailor called Thamus. As his ship passed between the Greek Isles of Paxos and Antipaxos, he heard a disembodied voice call out to him over the sea from the mainland. ‘Thamus, when you reach port take care to proclaim the great god Pan is dead.’ When Thamus dutifully broke the tragic news, his announcement was greeted by groans and lamentation.
In Norse mythology the death of Balder causes Ragnarok; the twilight of the gods. Knowing Baldur’s death will bring the end of time, his mother extracted a promise from every living thing on earth not to harm her son. However, she overlooked a single mistletoe plant; too young and tiny to hurt anyone. Loki, the god of mischief, fashioned an arrowhead from the tender shoot and breathing on it made it hard as iron.
Believing nothing could hurt their kinsman, the gods passed the time throwing weapons at Balder for sport, but Balder’s blind brother, Hodur, could never join in their games. Ever helpful, Loki gave Hodur the arrow and guided his hand.
Not fooled by Loki’s protestation of innocence, Odin sentenced him to be chained under a serpent whose fangs dripped poison on his face. Loki’s ever-faithful wife took it upon herself to catch the acidic poison in a bowl. But every time she needed to empty the bowl the poison burned Loki’s skin to the bone and made the earth quake as he writhed in agony.
Despite long lives and miraculous health it is obvious, from such tales, gods can be struck down by injury and disease. Maybe this is why none are alive today… as far as we know. Perhaps they only survived so long because like their cousins the fairy queens, they kidnapped children to train as apprentices; so that over time, although the actual person changed, the god they represented continued.
Population growth in the ancient world led to densely packed cities where literacy and philosophy flourished. As people became more educated, they began to doubt the gods. The idea of a spiritual, and above all moral god was much more appealing than the lustful, greedy, jealous, spiteful and somewhat stupid old gods who gave no guidance to man.
Among the educated there arose the idea of an idealised and purely spiritual god, the ‘deus’, who was seen in much the same way we see God today. He became so popular many city authorities, fearing the wrath of the old gods made impiety a crime. Four hundred years before the birth of Christ, the philosopher Socrates was charged with corrupting the youth of Athens through such outlandish impiety. Ordered to commit suicide, he drank a potion made from poisonous hemlock, while surrounded by loving pupils and admirers.
The dense urban population that brought wealth, leisure and learning also brought disease. Unsanitary conditions brought outbreaks of plague to the individual city-states with depressing frequency. In addition, every few hundred years a pandemic swept across the ancient civilised world. Much like the Black Death a few thousand years later, such pandemics could last for decades and have equally devastating results.
Today we think of plague solely as bubonic plague, but historians believe ancient plagues could have included anthrax, dysentery, malaria, tuberculosis, typhus, smallpox or even chickenpox and measles. Pandemics such as the Plague of Athens, which swept through Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya in 400 BCE, the Plague of Rome, in 120CE, and the Plague of Constantinople, in the 500s, killed as much as half the population dwelling within the heartlands of each empire.
Much like ordinary mortals, gods would be vulnerable during times of plague and especially vulnerable during pandemics, because the gods were so rare. Each group was basically an extended family unit. There were little more than 50 original Annunaki Star-gods, and about 30 Olympians of Greece and Rome – taking into account the minor gods and muses. There was roughly the same number of Scandinavian and Celtic gods. No wonder they chose to live on isolated mountaintops above the bad air and infection of the cities.
After successive waves of plague took their toll, and with Christianity having finally succeeded in redefining the nature of divinity, perhaps the gods joined the fairies in considering themselves in a different way. Maybe they adopted the role of magician such as the legendary Apollonius of Tyana, who raised the dead; or Simon Magus, who made statues talk, was served by invisible servants and could fly. In some cases, perhaps they even became Christian saints.
The glory days of the fairy kingdoms are so long gone, even their histories have crumbled to dust. All we can do is pan the half remembered fragments, part myth; part wishful thinking, for nuggets of truth, as rare as red gold in a Welsh mountain stream.
It is probably safe to say Fairyland has been in decline since the time of the Fisher King and the plague from Constantinople that left our fair isle such a wasteland. The pandemic of 500CE – called the Justinian Plague after the Byzantine Emperor – destroyed a fairy golden age in Britain that had lasted more than 150 years.
It is not until the 1200s do we find fairies once again making the same sort of impact on society with the introduction of chivalry to Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Court of Love at Poitiers, and the revival of Arthur as a romantic ideal through the poetic lais of Marie of France – whose work was soon to be wiped from history by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s definitive description of Arthur’s reign in his masterly tome ‘The History of British Kings’.
The Black Death, which followed in the 1350s and killed between 20% and 60% of Europe’s population, put an end to this fairy renaissance. In the following centuries, persecution by church, and then state, and subsequent outbreaks of plague prevented the fairy population ever climbing back to Golden Age levels.
The industrial revolution, a few hundred years ago, only exacerbated the situation as the increasing population, flooding into rapidly expanding cities, once more brought unsanitary conditions and pollution on a much more massive scale. Epidemics of typhus and now cholera – a new disease from the East; from which no one had immunity – were rife.
In the stories of this time, we may catch a glimpse of one of the last of the old gods, or perhaps merely a powerful fairy queen, in the shape of the legendary Typhoid Mary, a woman in New York who was immune to the disease, but a potent carrier. Typhoid Mary caused wave after wave of fresh outbreaks to ravage the city, before she finally vanished from history.
Although we will never know for sure, the final collapse of the fairy kingdoms may have taken place in the last year of the First World War with the outbreak of Spanish Flu. The Spanish Flu killed more people than the actual fighting. Estimated to have killed between 50 and 100 million people or 3% to 6% of the world’s population, it remains one of the deadliest single natural disasters since the Black Death.
You can find out more about the author here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/smorgasbord-guest-writer-19th-june-to-27th-june-author-horatio-grin-biography/
Part one – Lost Beginnings of the Fairy Races
Part Two – Tales of the Old Gods
Thank you for dropping and Horatio would love to receive your feedback. Thanks Sally