Transcending The Christmas Myth
Many of our cultural holidays are historically based on ancient mythology. Mythology itself is largely based on myths about gods and goddesses who inhabited ancient skies. In those days, deities were brought down to earth and given human incarnations as sons and daughters of gods and goddesses.
The Greeks had hundreds of deities, one for every human and earthly activity, from Apollo the Olympian God of the sun, light, knowledge, music, healing and the arts, to Zeus the very King of Heaven and god of the sky, clouds, thunder, and lightning. They had female deities as well, such as Hera, Queen of Heaven and goddess of the air and starry constellations, and Artemis, Olympian Goddess of virgins and young women, of the moon, nature, hunt and the wild animals. They had Astriaos, Titan god of stars and planets, and the art of astrology.
There was Aphrodite, “Goddess of beauty, love, desire, and pleasure. Although married to Hephaestus, she had many lovers, most notably Ares, Adonis, and Anchises. . . . Her Roman counterpart is Venus.” (Wikipedia)
There was Athena, “Goddess of reason, wisdom, intelligence, skill, peace, warfare, battle strategy, and handicrafts. According to most traditions, she was born from Zeus’s forehead, fully formed and armored. . . . She is a special patron of heroes such as Odysseus. . . . Her Roman counterpart is Minerva.” (Wikipedia)
Then there was Ares, “God of war, bloodshed, and violence. The son of Zeus and Hera, he was depicted as a beardless youth, either nude with a helmet and spear or sword, or as an armed warrior. Homer portrays him as moody and unreliable, and he generally represents the chaos of war in contrast to Athena, a goddess of military strategy and skill. . . . His Roman counterpart Mars by contrast was regarded as the dignified ancestor of the Roman people.” (Wikipedia)
They had many female deities, such as Demeter, “Goddess of grain, agriculture, harvest, growth, and nourishment. Demeter is a daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and a sister of Zeus, by whom she bore Persephone. Demeter is one of the main deities of the Eleusinian Mysteries, in which her power over the life cycle of plants symbolizes the passage of the human soul through life and into the afterlife. . . . Her symbols are the cornucopia, wheat-ears, the winged serpent, and the lotus staff. . . . Her Roman counterpart is Ceres.” (Wikipedia)
Some of these died and rose from the grave.
Amazing what one can find on the internet. If you look up “dying-and-rising gods,” for example, you’ll come upon this on Wikipedia:
Examples of gods who die and later return to life are most often cited from the religions of the Ancient Near East, and traditions influenced by them including Biblical and Greco-Roman mythology and by extension Christianity. The concept of dying-and-rising god was first proposed in comparative mythology by James Frazer‘s seminal The Golden Bough. Frazer associated the motif with fertility rites surrounding the yearly cycle of vegetation. Frazer cited the examples of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis and Attis, Dionysus and Jesus Christ.
Gods Born to Virgins on December 25 Before Jesus Christ
If you Google “Gods born to virgins” you’ll come upon this very interesting article, from which I will excerpt a few paragraphs:
There are common themes in ancient religion that make one wonder if Christianity was not the one exception to the rule that societies tend to adopt beliefs, stories, and traditions from one another. True, it’s not always clear whether common themes are a testament to the human exchange of ideas or to the universal imagination of early human thought (parallels may exist between religions on entirely different continents, for example, but that does not necessarily mean one influenced another).But what is clear is where certain ideas in human history did not originate.
Long before Yahweh and Jesus Christ, many religions had gods who were born in strange, miraculous ways, at times to virgins, who came to earth, and (though these are not the focus of this article) performed miracles, taught about judgement and the afterlife, were killed, reborn, and ascended into heaven. True, these stories are different from those of Christ, but the common archetypes in cultures in close proximity to Palestine suggest pagan influences on the biblical story of Christ’s birth.
December 25 was an important birthday for many human gods.
Most Christians understand Christ was not actually born on this date (biblical scholars believe he was born in the spring, because the Bible mentions shepherds in the fields at the time of his birth).
The idea that Christ was born on December 25 doesn’t appear in the historical record until the fourth century A.D.; the earliest Christian writers, such as Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and the gospel authors, are silent on the subject. . . .
Late December, the time of the winter solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year), was full of pagan European celebrations. The Roman Empire declared December 25 a holiday to celebrate the birth of their adopted Syrian god Sol Invictus in 274 A.D. Some 50 years later, Roman Emperor Constantine officially adopted December 25 as the day for celebrating Christ’s birth.
Before 1,000 B.C. we have the following gods or demigods born on December 25: Horus, Osiris, and Attis. Before 200 B.C. we have Mithra, Heracles, Dionysus, Tammuz, Adonis, and others (see All About Adam and Eve, by Richard Gillooly). Some of these characters, you will see below, were also born to virgins. . . .
Interestingly, in ancient mythology, many gods are born to women with names derived from “Ma,” meaning mother: Myrrha in Syrian myth, Maia in Greek myth, Maya in Hindu, Mary in Hebrew. . . .
The Magi’s star isn’t unique to Christmas – nor is the Magi.
Stars, meteors, and heavenly lights allegedly signaled the birth of many man-gods, including Christ, Yu, Lao-tzu, various Roman Caesars, and Buddha (see Gillooly). This parallels the strange and fantastic events that surround the births of purely mythological figures, such as Osiris in Syria, Trinity in Egypt, and Mithra in Persia. But nothing was more spectacular than virgin birth. . . .
Virgin birth, and a reverence and obsession with virginity, was a common theme in ancient religions before the time of Christ and near where Christianity originated (see “The Ancient Beginnings of the Virgin Birth Myth,” by Keyser). It marked the child as special, often divine.
Two thousand years before Christ, the virgin Egyptian queen Mut-em-ua gave birth to Pharaoh Amenkept III. Mut-em-ua had been told she was with child by the god Taht, and the god Kneph impregnated her by holding a cross, the symbol of life, to her mouth. Amenkept’s birth was celebrated by the gods and by three kings, who offered him gifts.
Ra, the Egyptian sun god, was supposedly born of a virgin, Net. Horus was the son of the virgin mother Isis. In Egypt, and in other places such as Assyria, Greece, Cyprus, and Carthage, a mythological virgin mother and her child was often a popular subject of art and sculpture.
Attis, a Phrygian-Greek vegetation god, was born of the virgin Nana. By one tradition, Dionysus, a Greek character half god and half human, was the son of Zeus, born to the virgin Persephone.
Persephone also supposedly birthed Jason, a character with no father, human or divine. Perseus was born to a mortal woman named Danae, and fathered by Zeus. Zeus also slept with a mortal woman (though daughter of a nymph) named Io, and they had a son and a daughter. He slept with the mortal Leda, who gave birth (hatched, actually) Helen of Troy and other offspring.
Even Plato in Greece was said by some to have been born to a virgin, Perictione, and fathered by the god Apollo, who gave warning to Ariston, Perictione’s husband-to-be.
Some followers of Buddha Gautama decided he was born to the virgin Maya by divine decree. Genghis Khan was supposedly born to a virgin seeded by a great miraculous light. The founder of the Chinese Empire, Fo-Hi, was born after a woman (not necessarily a virgin) ate a flower or red fruit. The river Ho (Korea) gave birth to a son when seeded by the sun. Krishna was born to the virgin Devaka. In Rome, Mercury was born to the virgin Maia, Romulus to the virgin Rhea Sylvia (see “An Old Story,” Chapman Cohen).
The Persian god Mithra was made the “Protector of the Empire” by the Romans in 307 AD, right before Christianity was declared the official religion. Some versions of Mithra’s story, predating Christianity, make him the son of a human virgin. His birth, on December 25, was seen by shepherds and Magi, who brought gifts to a cave, the place of his birth (see Godless, by former pastor Dan Barker).
Well, what do you think? Is the Christmas story just that, a mythical story, perhaps composed after the life of Jesus to explain and support his messianic divinity?
In closing this post, however, allow me this transcending perspective. We hear a lot about keeping Christ in Christmas during these days of commercialized everything. Personally, I believe that Christ was never omitted from Christmas, commercialism notwithstanding. The Christ is Love, as we each one are in true identity. Love is born and reborn every year when we celebrate its birth through the man Jesus two-thousand years ago. Love is very much in our hearts and in expression this time of year. I feel it strongly as we spend time with our children and grandchildren this week. I feel it when friends near and far wish me and others a “Merry Christmas,” or a “Happy Holidays.” I don’t think that Jesus would feel slighted by such a seasonal greeting as “Happy Holidays” if he were around. The Love is there so the Christ is there. So, I wish you each one a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holidays, a Happy Hanukkah if you’re Jewish, and a Happy Solstice if you’re into celebrating the goddess Gaia’s seasons of the year . . . and while I’m at it, Have a Happy New Year! ~Anthony Palombo
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