Cosmogony and Cosmology - Deities

Cosmogony and Cosmology

As we have seen, the universe begins through a single being, who then forms a dyad. The myth of the creation of our world involves an original pair of divine twins, one of whom sacrifices the other (alternatively, they can be conceived of as a Primordial Sacrificer and a Primordial Sacrificial Animal). The body of the sacrificed twin becomes the physical world (the different organs of his body are typically linked to specific elements in Nature), while his spirit becomes the ruler of the world of the dead. This first sacrifice then determines the structure of our own reality, which is ternary. It comprises:

-- a heavenly world Above, a place of clarity and reason ruled by the Sun and Moon and other sources of light, seen as the abode of the gods who protect social order and justice;

-- a watery underworld Below, sometimes seen as connected to an encircling sea, the origin of all rivers and springs, a dark, chaotic place where all fertility has its source, but where the resident powers are irrational and dangerous;

-- in the middle, between these two, the Earth on which human beings live, relying on the resources of both the Above and the Below, and perpetually seeking a balance between them. The Earth is usually portrayed as four-sided, divisible into four quarters.

Running through the Earth's center is the Axis of all three worlds, linking them together. It is generally represented as a great tree with its roots in the underworld and its branches in the heavens, but it can also be a huge mountain with a tree growing on it. Through the medium of the World Tree the contrary natures of the Above and the Below can engage in reciprocal exchange: the moist fertility of the underworld allows the Tree to grow into the sunlight, where it brings forth fruits that fall back into the waters and replenish the nourishing powers of the Below. Although the opposition between the Above and the Below looks like conflict, they in fact sustain each other.


Both the Above and the Below have their resident divine powers. The deities of the Below are linked to fertility, wealth and physical well-being, but they are unpredictable and not usually friendly to humans. They are often portrayed with serpentine traits, highlighting their ambivalent nature, capable of providing poison and healing at the same time. Because of their association with pure materiality they tend to pursue power and lust as ends in themselves, without any regard for ideals or morals. Some of them are vast beings who rule over entire natural processes, but many of them are purely local, residing in specific features of the landscape. Nature spirits associated with particular plants and animals can also be placed in this group. Typically the deities of the Below will cooperate with humans only when bribed with material offerings or coerced by the deities of the Above.The deities of the Above, by contrast, take an active interest in humans and will respond to them if they are addressed in the proper ritual manner.


Because their own society is a mirror-image of human society, they can be divided according to the three functions that pan-Indo-European tradition sees as essential to the survival of any human community: the First Function gives the community a sense of secure identity, establishing principles of truth and falsehood and right and wrong as well as normative cultural and religious beliefs, and legitimizing the authority of its rulers (its exponents are religious and legal experts, and intellectuals in general); the Second Function defends the community against outside threats, primarily through the exercise of combat skills (its exponents are warriors and political leaders); the Third Function sees to the community's material needs, interacting with the Land to produce whatever is required to feed, clothe, heal and give physical enjoyment to people (its exponents are farmers, herdsmen, merchants, physicians -- and women in general, because sexuality and reproduction play a major role in this function).


Following this pattern, we can place the deities of the Above into three main groups: