So, these gods were worshipped in order to assure the fertility of crops and livestock, and to ensure the fertility of humans. Human fertility was always a major concern to the ancients as they would have needed to replace their numbers quickly in times when the human lifespan was likely to be cut short by marauding animals, accidents, wars and disease. These male fertility gods were often known for the use of sexual suggestion. Sometimes they were depicted with an erect phallus and other times more discreet symbols were used. Many fertility gods were "life-death-rebirth" deities, who were associated with the concept of the continuation of life, the new harvest, the sun and the progression of the seasons. As such they were also symbols of renewal, fertility and abundance.
Frazer and Harrison in "The Golden Bough" argued that myths and the subsequent god beliefs, were really echoes of rituals, and that all rituals have as their purpose the manipulation of natural phenomena by means of sympathetic magic. Sympathetic magic is based on the metaphysical belief that "like affects like." Sympathetic magic, or imitative magic, is a type of magic based on imitation or correspondence. Imitation involves using symbols or effigies to effect the environment of people, or the people themselves. Correspondence is based on the idea that one can influence something based on its relationship to another thing. So a ritual of sympathetic magic would be one where an action upon one object can cause an analogous effect on another object, without an apparent causal link between the two objects.
"Life, death, and rebirth deities" symbolized the human desire to positively effect the fecundity of the natural world through imitation and correspondence. Or, to positively effect the natural world through sympathetic magic. What I mean by this is that a deity which symbolically depicted the continuation of life, that is a "life, death and rebirth deity", was a form of sympathetic magic. Mankind believed he could positively influence the processes of the natural world by imitating it through symbolic ritual. This category of "life, death and rebirth deities" is interpreted in a couple of ways. One way might be labelled the naturalistic approach that seeks to explain "life, death, and rebirth deities” by observing their symbolic parallels with natural processes. Another way seeks to explain such deities in terms of individual spiritual transformation.
There have been historically, many examples of "life, death and rebirth deities." Here are examples of just a few.
- Akkadian "Life, death and rebirth deities"
- Egyptian "life, death and rebirth deities"
- Greek "life, death and rebirth deities"
- Hindu "life, death and rebirth deities"
- Norse "life, death and rebirth deities"
- Persian "life, death and rebirth deity"
- Phrygian "life, death and rebirth deity"
- Roman "life, death and rebirth deities"
- Christian "life, death and rebirth deity"
In the naturalistic approach, the symbols and rituals associated with the "life, death and rebirth deities” are considered as examples of sympathetic magic where human beings attempt to influence or depict the processes of the natural world such as:
- 1. the seasons
- 2. the harvest
- 3. the sun
- 4. the movement of the sun through the sky
- 5. the continuation of life
- 6. human activity associated with the changing seasons
- 7. and/or the sun as it moved through the astrological constellations.
These natural events and processes were believed to effect the fertility and abundance of life on earth upon which human survival depended. It is debatable as to whether ancient peoples worshipped their "life, death and rebirth deities” as supernatural forces, which existed outside of the natural world. They may have symbolically represented mysterious and wondrous processes, which occurred within the natural world. A natural world over which humans wished to exercise a degree of control which would be favourable to their survival. From the naturalistic approach, these "life death and rebirth deities" are symbols of fertility and the renewal of seasonal life as depicted by the movement of the sun through the sky and its correlation with the seasons. These deities as symbols of natural processes have been personified for a mass audience.
"The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the Sun, in which they put a man whom they call Christ, in the place of the Sun, and pay him the same adoration which was originally paid to the Sun."- Thomas Paine
In the spiritual transformation version, the "life, death and rebirth deities" are viewed as symbols of spiritual transformation. In some cases, the deities are considered to exist in reality and not merely as "spiritual allegory." The deities, which were believed to have existed in the natural world, then as part of their "birth, death and rebirth" cycle, then go on to be reborn in a supernatural world.
What is interesting to me, is that atheists, skeptics or agnostics tend to view ALL of the "life, death and rebirth deities" according to the same model, that is, the naturalistic approach. Whereas theists seem to use the naturalistic approach for ALL the "life, death and rebirth deities" which are NOT part of their religion, and use the spiritual transformation approach for the deity in whom they have religious faith.
The Sun, the ultimate fertility symbol, "the light of the world", through which all life is made possible.