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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011
  • First published in: 1909

CHAPTER XI - MINOR CULTS

Summary

The leading personal deities of the public worships of Greece have been the main subject of this treatise hitherto. But the picture of the state-polytheism would be incomplete without a careful study of the minor cults, of which the material documents are collected at the end of this volume, but which can only be considered now in regard to their general and essential features.

The high gods are, as we have seen, mainly anthropomorphic and ethical personalities more or less detached from nature. Yet pure nature-worship and nature-magic were practised widely no doubt by the prehistoric Greek communities, and never wholly abandoned in the historic period. The rite, that Pausanias described as maintained in his own day by Methana near Troizen, of carrying round the vineyards the dismembered limbs of a cock to preserve the vines when the baneful wind blew that they called Lips, may be preanimistic magic, directed to no personal god. The processes whereby the ‘magi’ of Kleonai endeavoured to avert storms of hail and snow, according to the statement of Clemens, combined magic with elemental worship: ‘they endeavour to avert the threat of (the sky's) anger by incantations and sacrifices; and if they are in want of a sacrificial victim, they draw blood from their own fingers.’ This blood-letting must have had the piacular purpose of soothing the wrath of the elements, and this is religion.

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