Apr/May 2009 Nonfiction

About the Origin of Deities on Earth

by Tala Bar

There is an idea current today, that ancient gods represent beings from outer space who came to Earth and exerted their power over humanity. This idea was presented in the fictional film and series Stargate, and for some reason has been taken by many to be a factual truth.

I have been fascinated to watch both the film and the television series, being an ardent fan of science fiction and fantasy stories and a student of mythology. I am also greatly interested in science, and being also a writer of the two genres mentioned above, I know how important it is to know the difference between fact and fiction. Stargate and the ideas behind it are undoubtedly fiction, and I wish to make clear the strong basis for the idea that the origin of Earthly deities is Earth itself.

In his article, "Of the Extraterrestrial Origin of Earthly Deities," Mr. Boulerice brings the similarity between deities from different cultures all over the world as proof for his theory. On the other hand, this similarity must stem from the obvious fact that all these different cultures are human, and all humans on earth belong to the same species, as the biological sciences have proven again and again; they can intermarry and produce viable issue, as individuals of the same species usually can, and in spite of the differences in cultures, there is no difference in their biological make up or their human characteristics.

It has also been proven that all human beings have developed on earth from an earthly life form, and they share parts of their DNA with even the lowest living creatures on earth. As a result, most deities have been formed either in human or in earthly animal images; even in the case of dragons, their origin is thought to be based on findings of dinosaur bones. The fact is, we all live on the same earth under the same sky affected by the same forces of the same earthly nature; and it is an axiom that the earliest deities are those representing the Forces of Nature.

The earliest of all deities, created by humans in remote prehistoric times before there were any gods of heaven and earth, was the Mother Goddess, whose character is the basis for the earliest concept of deity. Human beings have created their deities on the basis of their experience and the way they feel about their place in the world. Mother worship is the most natural and obvious to any one who has had basic motherly care. It is a reasonable assumption that the basic concept of deity would result from the way humans conceive their mother; it must be noted, however, that this concept is double faced. Many times, the mother appears both as a good, nurturing being and as a cruel, limiting creature, sometimes a monster and even a killer.

Deities must have been created in some kind of chronological in order—i.e., humans did not worship all deities at the same time. It is accepted by scholars of mythology that the older the deity appears in myth, the earlier it had appeared as a godly concept. Mother goddesses have existed all over the world from time immemorial, from Europe to Africa, from Asia to America and Australia. She has taken many and various forms, and in one of the earliest ones she is a birthing woman. Many peoples have sanctified the birth canal itself, sometimes calling it, "the gate of the womb temple which guards the divine femininity."

The main function of the Mother is, however, to nurture the infant after its birth, to supply it with food and protection. The Mother, then, is the initial Fertility goddess, as she appears in the many sculptures and carvings from 20 to 30 thousand years ago. As a Force of Nature, she is identified first and foremost with the Earth itself, called Gaia by the ancient Greeks as well as by modern pagans; she is, then, the Mother of all Beings, representing human, animal and plant life.

The Great Mother has as many appellations as she has functions. She is the Mother of the World, as the Indian goddess Kali-Ma is; she is Mother of all Livings, as was the Biblical Eve, or Havvah; she is the Mother of the Gods, as was the Babylonian Sea goddess Tiamat; or she may be the Grandmother of the world. Like the Egyptian Isis, mother of the Sun god Horus, she is "the earliest of them all," and she is also Mary, mother of the Christian Jesus.

As has been said, however, the Mother also has her darker side, and for the Aztecs she was the Earth goddess, "Mother of Life, Death, and the Gods."

It is quite possible that the earliest deities representing the Forces of Nature were the Sun and the Moon. Appearing both in human and in animal forms, a Sun male god in many cultures is the son of the Great Mother, as Horus, with the head of a hawk, was the son of Isis; his mother, though, wore the horns of a cow, one of the foremost ikons of the Mother. In various cultures the Sun god could represent Light, open Justice, and the purity of Gold, the color of the Sun. Such were the Greek Helios or his successor Apollo, who was also taken over by the Romans; the Egyptian Ra, representing the full strength and light of the sun in daytime; and the two young deities parallel to Horus, the Norse Balder and the Celtic Lugh.

The deity of the sun, though, could also be a female in other cultures. While the Babylonian Shamash ("sun") was a male god, the Canaanite/Phoenicians deity by the same name, interchanging with Shapash (two labial consonants), was female. Shapash (s. link) was all-seeing, and was the deity who led souls into or out of the Underworld. The idea of the Sun as a traveler to the Underworld is known from other cultures such as Egypt, where in their myths the Sun journeys each night through the land of the dead, which is the back/dark side of the world, to emerge once more in the East. Such idea was obviously born on Earth, after observing the sun's daily disappearance in the west to come up again in the east.

As is to be expected in a very hot land, Shapash the Sun Goddess can be an ambivalent Deity, depending on the time of year; it can either cause the crops to grow with her gentle warmth in winter, or wither vegetation with her excessive heat in the summer.

Other Sun goddesses are the very powerful Japanese Amaterasu and the Hittite Arinna, who was considered a major deity.

The Moon, on the other hand, being more of a mystic nature, was a male deity among the Canaanites, while a female for the Babylonians. As a female, especially for the Europeans, the moon is full of mystery and magic and is sacred to witches. It is also connected with water; earth sciences have long recognized the moon's influence over the tides of the sea, which makes it one of Earth's Forces of Nature.

A list (s. link) of over 30 Moon goddesses is only a short compilation from around the world. Besides the well known goddesses like Diana, Isis, and Ishtar, there is a mention of the Greek Selena, who was a goddess of the Full Moon who wore wings and a crescent crown and rode a chariot pulled by two white horses. Another Moon goddess in the list is the Pueblo "Yellow Woman," of whom it is said that she was a huntress (like Diana and Artemis); the story of her life explains the phases of the moon.

Male deities connected with water are different in character. They are mostly called Storm gods (although there are also some storm goddesses known from Africa). Storm gods around the world are very powerful, full of energy and bringers of fertility to the land. Their energy is usually expressed by the thunder, which is said to be produced by various means: some Storm gods drum on tree trunks; some roar like powerful beasts like a bull or a bear; and among the Norse people, the thunder is said to be the sound of Thor's chariot wheels.

Lightning, on the other hand, is connected with fertility by its phallic shape, as seen on a stone carving held by the Canaanite Storm and Rain god Baal. The Storm and Rain god is, in fact, a male Fertility god who dwells in the sky, from where precipitations come down to fertilize the female Earth. In Canaan, and later Israel, the idea was (and still is today) expressed by the expression "Baal's lands," referring to a farming area which are not watered by humans and are left for the rain to do it.

The best known Storm god in Western civilization was the Greek, or Cretan, Zeus, who was known by his lightning or thundering rage. Another storm god was the Hindu Indra, who preceded the better known Brahmin trio of gods.

In a book of Myth and Legends of North American Indians by Lewis Spence, it is said (p. 125) that "North America is rich in Thunder gods." A fair example of these is Haokah of the Sioux, who had a double face: in a sunny day he was cheerful, and in a rainy day he was gloomy. He created thunder by drumming on a trunk of a tree, using the wind as a drum stick, and he hurled lightning down to earth in the shape of thunderbolts, just like Zeus.

Another source for Nature deities is the Underworld. It is the dark and frightening realm under the Earth, which is actually a part of its body, where the dead are buried and where withered plants go before they are revived and flourish again. The ancient belief, expressed in a book of Jewish mythology, is that the dead who go there by being buried, like the plants, do it "in the hope to rise from there and be reborn." The Underworld, which is the bowels of the Earth, is regarded as the womb of the Earth as a female creature and the Mother of the World.

The idea of the plants being reborn from the earth again and again after their dying is also connected with her being fertilized by the masculine rain; the word "fertilize" has a double meaning: to inseminate a female, and to make things fertile. The ancients, who could not see the semen, not having a microscope, thought it was the fluid which fertilized a woman, as the rain does the earth.

Some gods represented those dying and reviving plants in the cycle of life. The Greek Cora, who was the young image of the Underworld goddess Persephone, spent half of each year of her life as the growing corn on the face of the earth, and the other half in her adult form as the Queen of the Underground.

On the other hand, Baal, besides being a Storm and Rain god, was also called Dagan ("corn"), appearing in the form of the green Corn. Every year, at the heat and dryness of summer, he was killed by the hand of his brother Mot, the god of Death and of the yellow, dry Corn. At Midsummer, their sister and lover goddess Anat reaped and killed Mot, the ripe Corn, beat and threshed his body and spread his chaff to the wind while collecting the grains. Baal was revived when the rains came in autumn, symbolizing both the rains and the reviving vegetation. The double functioning of the gods may represent two separate myths that were combined into one, as it is told in the ancient Ugaritic tablets from the 15 century B.C. written in Canaanite, which have been found in Ras Shamra in Syria.

An even older Semitic dying and rising god was the Sumerian/Babylonian Tamuz, who was a shepherd connected with grass and wild vegetation rather than with farming. He was the lover of Ishtar, Queen of Heaven and one of the most ancient and greatest Mother goddesses of the world; he was snatched by Ereskigal, Queen of the Underworld, who had fallen in love with him. As a compromise, they divided his stay with each of them as the year is divided, naturally.

All of the deities mentioned above represent basic Nature forces, which have accompanied the life of our remote, prehistoric ancestors in their natural, pre-writing, stone-age technological environments. In time, humans found the need to ascribe divine powers to other phenomena that were accompanying their lives, like the stars and constellations, healing, war, wisdom and love, fate and fortune. Most of them, as has been said, were created in either human or earthly animal or bird images. People who advocate the idea of Earth's deities representing beings from outer space could not have experienced much of the divine forces of Earth's Nature itself.



Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Prometheus Press, 1959;
Encyclopedia of World Mythology, Octopus Books ltd., 1975;
Sir James Frazer: The Golden Bough, 1951;
Lewis Spence: North American Indians—Myths and Legends, Senate, 1914;



Jacques Boulerice
Encyclopedia Mythica
Goddesses around the world
Deity names around the world
Sun goddess
Moon goddesses


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