AO Magazine - January-February 2021
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There are more than six billion people on the planet that worship a god or gods in one form or another. But humanity’s belief in god has fundamentally changed. Today, most adherents of a religion believe in a benevolent, merciful, and loving god (or gods). But it was not always this way.
In the ancient world, gods and goddesses were believed to cast their wrath and fury upon the world, bringing droughts and floods, sickness, crop failures, plagues, and endless disasters. There were, of course, benevolent deities too – protectors, providers, healers, creators, and saviors, but their favor could not always be counted on, and keeping them appeased with offerings, rituals, or sacrifice, was of utmost importance.
Religious beliefs were so intricately woven into the fabric of existence that major events, such as wars, the rise and fall of rulers, and natural disasters; and even the ordinary events of daily life, were all believed to be under the will of the gods - nothing happened on earth unless first decreed in the heavens.
In many ways, these gods of old have never truly left us. Tales of their battles, bickering and conquests have influenced the course of our language and narrative. In fact, we pay homage to them daily – every Thursday (Thor’s Day), for example, we recall the Norse god Thor, the almighty god of thunder, while in February, we recollect Februus, the Roman god of purification. Traces of these ancient gods are also found in our modern-day symbols – the caduceus of god Mercury remains a symbol of trade and commerce, while the rod of Greek god Asclepius is a symbol used by healthcare and medical practices around the world.
Not only have the ancient gods never truly disappeared, but a revival in polytheistic beliefs is stirring once more. Nordic paganism is now Iceland’s fastest-growing religion, with the construction of the first temple to Thor and Odin in over 1,000 years, and all across Europe, we are seeing a renewed interest and adherence to old pagan traditions. Will we see the rise of the ancient gods once more?