Is Greek Mythology A Religion?
Religion has been the main contributing factor for humans to fully understand the essence and meaning of human existence. It is through religion that one is able to recognize a supernatural power governing the universe to achieve its harmony, as well as, provide a ground to deeply understand the meaning of life through practices. Every civilization from the previous era up to present exposed us to several kinds of religion that will represent the civilization’s beliefs, meaning, and purpose of life. Such is the Greek Civilization during the Hellenistic era. It is not a surprise that the ancient Greek played a significant influence on the western civilization and a part of this success would be the Greek mythology. However, if we are going to classify and carefully analyze the context of mythology, can we really say that is a form of religion or it’s just a myth that everyone learned and appreciates the concept of. In this article, we will criticize the context of Greek mythology and how this becomes a form of religion in Greece during the Hellenistic era.
Greek mythology dated back 2000 BC which developed within the primitive religions of Crete where the first civilization arose. During those times, people believed in the idea that natural objects have spirits or special magical power within them which eventually developed into the beliefs of gods with a human form. As opposed to other ancient religions, Greek mythology resembled differently in terms of structure. Gods and goddesses were pictured with a human resemblance showing also humanistic emotions. The Greek gods were highly emotional and behaved inconsistently and sometimes immorally. This is the reason why mythology, as compared to other ancient religion, did not have a set of morals or without any spiritual teachings and sacred book. Although Greek mythology possessed these diverse and distinct characteristics, it is still considered to be a religion due to several factors or criterions met.
The first criterion in order to consider a belief and practice as a religion, it should believe in supernatural beings. Although Greek mythology is a polytheist, it still believed in the idea of supernatural power that took control of mortals. For early Greeks, they supposed that their fate as mankind depends on their deity. They acknowledged that their life completely relied on the goodwill of the gods and whatever blessings and triumph they received particularly, in wars were all because the gods in favored their decisions. In addition, Greeks were also aware of the power of their gods in delivering severe punishments if the unacceptable behavior has been made which were brought by lenient pride, extreme ambition, and even disproportionate prosperity.
The second criterion to consider for a belief system to be a religion was the presence of sacred objects, place, and time, together with the rituals acts focused on it. Sacred objects such as temples at Delphi and altar of Zeus were universally honored places by the Greeks because it reminded them of the ultimate representation of their god’s highness and power. Since Greek human affairs greatly influenced by the gods, various cities set some gods too as their patrons which they called upon for help in particular situations. Certain examples were Aphrodite for the city of Corinth and Adonis for Pantheon. Mythology served as a religion for the early Greeks since a religion doesn’t stop only with the presence of sacred objects but it also encompasses the act of being sacred through rituals and worship on temples in honor to these. Ancient Greeks held formal religious assemblies focused on devotion and proclaiming the goodness of the gods. These gatherings allowed the unity of both members of the religious community in Greece such as priest and pagan, as well as, the communication among ancestors and their descendants. Like Christianity, Greek mythology as a religion used to celebrate festivals and feast day in honor of the significant dates in the life of their gods. Here, people offered prayers to their gods, commemorated their holy contribution, recited words of poets, and even proffered a sacrifice or gift in the form of domestic animals like goats to express gratitude and integrity to them.
Last criterion that would make Greek mythology a religion was the religious feelings, prayer, and communication undertaken by the Greek believers in adoration to their gods. Greeks customarily say a prayer when just passing on temples in the streets. Individual also organized personal sacrifices if they had the means especially if they’re doubtful and asking for guidance and hope. People also looked for signs from the gods in everyday life and interpret these signs as indicators of future events and possible future decisions. These signs also functioned as a lesson for the actions they have done incorrectly and a determiner of possible attitudes they should keep in mind in order to please and acknowledge their gods wholeheartedly.