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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 1167 times)
Peggie Welles
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« on: January 25, 2009, 12:59:43 am »

sea and of subterranean fire, which had destroyed their fathers.

For the Aryan Hellenic stock there was All-father Zeus and the Goddess of Wisdom, Pallas Athene, who was also a warrior goddess, as befitted a warlike race. What the Greek religion was at this period, who shall say? But it is not so wild a guess to suppose that it may have been of a bardic nature--hymn-bursts suited to warriors, of which we have relics in the legends of Druid and Bard and in all those ancient traditions of the Celt, in the mythology of the Teuton and Norseman, and even in the legend-lore preserved by the ancient Slavs.

We may imagine how in these early years, as the strong current of the Aryan flood swept them onward, The wavelets of Aryan Immigration. wavelet overlapped wavelet, horde fought with horde, and that the smiling land of Hellas was a rich prize for the strongest. We may imagine how when the effects of the "floods" had subsided and in course of many many years seismic disturbances had lessened, the Hellenic stock reoccupied the ground again, not only in Greece itself but also on the shores of Asia Minor. But how many wavelets of immigration flowed in until Homeric times who shall say? Perhaps some day it may be possible to sift out from the myths some deposit of history, and perceive how a Cecrops, an Erectheus, and an Ion did not follow each other in rapid succession, but were great leaders who established kingdoms separated by long periods of time.

May it not further be that with these conquering kings came bards to advise and encourage, and supply

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what of religion was thought good for them? May we not seek for the prototype of Orpheus here, and to one of the later wavelets trace the archaic fragments of the most ancient religious poems? We may almost see some religious pomp of the time passing down the Sacred Way to Eleusis, ever the most sacred spot in Greece, with some Orpheus of the time rousing the warriors to enthusiasm by his songs, harp in hand, with his grey locks streaming in the breeze, while the regular march of the warriors kept time to the strain, and emphasized it by the rhythmic clashing of their shields.

It would be vain to look for any intellectual The Orphic Line. presentation of religion along this line; whatever it was, it must have been inspirational, prophetical, and oracular; and indeed this is the peculiar characteristic of the Orphic tradition.

But even in these early days was the tradition a pure one? Scarcely; the various races must have fought their way through other races, and settled for a time among them before they reached Hellas, and the main line of their march seems to have been round the south shores of the Black Sea and through Thrace.

In Thrace they would meet with the cult of Dionysus and absorb some of its traditions; not that Thrace was the home of this cult, its origins appear to reach eastwards and back into time--a widespreading cultus with its roots in the soil of an archaic Semitism, the traces of which are hard to discover in the obscure and fragmentary records that we now possess. Moreover there is some mixture

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of the Chaldean tradition in the Orphic line, but whether it existed at this period or was superadded later is hard to say.

What the precise religion of the earlier of these successive wavelets was like, when they had settled in the rich lands of Greece, and became more civilized, we can no longer say, for we have no records, but doubtless they were watched over and sufficient inspiration given them for their needs.

If we now turn to the Greece of Homer, and try to find traces of Orpheus, we are doomed to disappointment; The Greece of Homer. but this is not altogether inexplicable. Homer sings of a Greece that seems to have entirely forgotten its ancient bards, of heroes who had left their religion at home, as it were. The yellow-haired Greeks who won the supremacy subsequent to Ion's time, were a stock that paid little attention to religion; they give one the impression of being some sort of Viking warriors who cared little for the agricultural pursuits in which their predecessors were engaged, if we can judge from the tradition preserved by Hesiod. We see a number of independent chieftains occupying the many vales of Greece, whose idea of providing for an increasing population is by foray and conquest.

There may have been a fickle Helen and a too gallant Paris who violated the hospitality of his hosts, but the Trojan War was more probably a foray of these warriors to gain new lands,--a foray not against an alien race, but against those of their own general kin; for the Trojans were Greeks, somewhat orientalised in their customs perhaps, by settlement in

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contact with the nations of Asia, but for all that Greeks,--dark-haired Greeks, with a cult like the cult of the fair-haired ones, and with perchance for the most part as little understanding concerning it.

It is, however, just this absence of the priest, or the very subordinate position he holds, which is an indication of the germ of that independence of thought which is the marked characteristic of the Greek mind that was subsequently developed, and of which the Greece of history was the special and carefully watched depository, that it might evolve for the world-purpose for which it was destined. It was good for men to look the gods manfully in the face and battle with them if need be.

"Homer" was the bard of these Viking heroes; but the bard of their predecessors (who were equally Greeks) of the Hellenic stock which they had dominated, was "Orpheus." The descendants of the heroes of Troy naturally looked to "Homer" as the singer of the deeds of their forefathers, and as the recorder of their customs and cult; they were too proud to listen to "Orpheus" and the old "theologers" who had been the bards of the conquered; so the old songs and sagas of this bardic line, the lays and legends of this older Greece, were left to the people and to consequent neglect and lack of understanding.

Such was the state of affairs when philosophy "Orpheus" returns to Greece. arose in the seventh century; it was then found by the few that Homer could not suffice for the religious needs of thinking men; there was nothing in Homer to compare with the religious traditions of Egypt and Chaldæa; the Greeks apparently had nothing of

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religion, their ancestors were barbarians. Then it occurred to some to collect and compare the ancient oracles and religious myths of the people--the fragments of the Orphic songs--and therein they found proofs of an ancient Greek tradition of things unseen that could be favourably compared with much that Egypt and Chaldæa could tell them. Greece had a religious tradition; their forebears were not barbarous.

Those who busied themselves with such matters at this critical period, we may believe, were not left without guidance; and poets and thinkers were helped as they could receive it. The fragments of this activity in Orphic poesy which have come down to us, show signs of this inspiration; we do not refer to the late "Orphic Hymns," some eighty in number, which may be read in English in Taylor's translation, but to the ancient fragments scattered in the works of classical and patristic writers.

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