Food of the Gods

Arkane Curiosities

In 1904 H.G. Wells wrote about the Food of the Gods, which transformed regular animals and people into gargantuan proportions. The title was apt, because like us mortals, deities must also feast in order to survive.

Magical Goat Food

Perhaps the most famous divine nourishment would be the ambrosia consumed by the Greek gods on Mount Olympus. Before they discovered this magical foodstuff, gods had to inhale vapors from their dead enemies, akin to taking in the soul of the vanquished. 

As the god Zeus grew from a baby to a full-grown thunderbolt-wielding god, he was nursed by a goat (or possibly a nymph) named Amalthea. Baby Zeus, like most infants, grabbed anything near him. While feeding, he broke off one of Amalthea’s horns. This was later transformed into a Cornucopia (or Horn of Plenty).

The Horn of Plenty would create a limitless supply of ambrosia for the gods (along with any type of food for mortals). White doves would whisk this precious food up to Mount Olympus each day.

Nectar was also used interchangeably with ambrosia, though it was said to taste like honey and be carried by a swift eagle.

Ichor and Immortality

The gods and goddesses gained immortality by gobbling up ambrosia and nectar. Immortality has its downside. Their blood transformed to ichor, a divine life force. 

If the gods missed too many meals, their immortality would fade away. The great Demeter, goddess of the hearth, went for days without eating in her search for Persephone and nearly perished with the effort. 

Mortals and Ambrosia

One story has Achilles gaining his famous invulnerability by being anointed with ambrosia, which burnt away his mortal skin. His mother, Thetis, would have covered his whole body in the stuff, but Peleus, her husband, thought she was trying to harm little Achilles and stopped her, leaving his famous ankle still mortal. 

The gods used ambrosia to cure diseases, heal scars and beautify the human body. If applied to a freshly killed hero, the ambrosia would preserve the body forever. When Patroclus died in the Trojan war, his body was anointed with Ambrosia to keep it in a perfect state. 

Some believed that if mortals consumed ambrosia (or nectar), they too would become immortal. King Tantalus attempted to seal some of the mythical provisions only to fail and become immortal in another way (punished with eternal hunger in Tartarus).

Immortality Garden

There might even have been a whole garden with immortality-bearing food. In the far west, where the sun sets, lay the Garden of Hesperides. Three nymphs, called the “Daughters of the Evening” tended the garden which held a special apple tree. One of Hercules’s tasks was to pluck an apple from this tree. 

In the play Hippolytus, Euripides mentions a place where “streams flow with ambrosia by Zeus’s bed of love and holy Gaia”. This could possibly be the resting place of the fable Cornucoplia. 

That’s a pretty good journey for those doves each day.

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Prometheus Tricks Zeus

Arkane Curiosities

All mythologies have a trickster. Loki pulls one over on the Norse gods. Native American cultures see Coyote fooling around. And for China, Sun Wukong (or the Monkey King) plays many a trick.

In Ancient Greece, Prometheus was the sly one. His trickery often was to the benefit of us poor humans. His name means “forethought” as opposed to his brother Epimetheus, meaning “afterthought”.

Sacrifices to the Gods

To understand the mischief Prometheus pulled off, we need to understand the role of sacrifices to the Greek gods.

The Greeks believed that the gods on Olympus demanded sacrifices as part of their worship. Usually this entailed killing a common farm animal, like a goat, pig or cow. Often the sacrifice was linked to a request of the god. Do this for me and you get this meaty sacrifice. 

The more important the request, the larger the sacrifice. Sometimes the gods required a hecatomb (hekaton = 100 and bous = bull), meaning 100 bulls. In actual practice, only twelve were slaughtered for the gods. 

Sometimes the gods demand even more. When Agamemnon and the Greeks tried to sail to Troy to rescue Helen, the winds had died down. The only way for Agamemnon to appease the goddess Artemis was to sacrifice Iphigenia, his own daughter. He lured her to the port town of Aulis by saying that she would marry Achilles. It didn’t go so well for poor Iphigenia.

Later, thanks to Prometheus’s quick thinking, the gods no longer feasted on the meat of sacrifices, but only the smoke that wafted up in the sky. Playwright Aristophanes makes it clear, albeit in a jesting way, that the gods need this sustenance. In his plays the Birds and Plutus, the sacrificial smoke is blocked and the gods end up starving. 

Prometheus Tricks Zeus

According to Hesiod’s Theogony, mortals and gods once feasted together. They gathered in Mecone (now the village of Sicyon outside of Corinth) to decide who got what part of a sacrificed ox. You would expect the gods to take the prime bits, but Prometheus knew that humans needed every morsel of food to survive. 

He piled the good and nutritious portions under the stomach of the animal. In a separate pile, he stacked the bones and wrapped them in glistening fat. Prometheus invited Zeus to choose. The king of the god was taken in by the more appetizing fatty bones. 

This explains the practice of sacrificing only the bones to the gods. Experiments to recreate Greek sacrifices found that the fat would sizzle and light on fire, the flame burning for several minutes. 

Zeus’s Punishment

Some say that Zeus saw through this ruse and simply wanted an excuse to get angry. In any event, the king of the gods deprived humankind of fire, leaving them shivering at night. 

Prometheus took pity on mortals and wanted to steal fire. Easier said than done. His plan involved starting up the Trojan war and getting the gods distracted with the battle. He then snuck down to Hephaestus’s workshop and nabbed fire, transporting it in a hollowed out reed. 

When Zeus discovered the deception, he was infuriated. He ordered Hephaestus to chain Prometheus to a rock on Mount Caucasus. Everyday, an eagle would peck out his liver, and every night it would heal again. He lived this way for eons until Heracles freed him.

The moral here, don’t piss off Zeus.

Tim Kane

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Superstitions of the Undead (Or How to Keep the Dead in Their Graves)

Arkane Curiosities

Every culture fears that the dead will return to haunt and terrorize them. Throughout the centuries, different superstitions regarding death and burial arose to help keep the dead in their graves, where they belong.

Haitian Lip Sewing

The religion of voodoo is a mixture of several different practices originating in Africa. The main fear is that a deceased person might rise as a zombie. This isn’t the flesh-eating ghoul introduced by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These are bodies animated by a sorcerer (bokor) and forced into an eternal slavery.

One common practice is to sew the corpse’s mouth shut. A bokor could only raise the dead by forcing the deceased to answer its name. Thus, sewing the lips shut prevents the dead from speaking. 

Another way to keep the dead from talking is to bury the corpse face down with its mouth against the earth. A dagger is also given to the deceased so they can stab any bokor who disturbs them. 

Finally, you can distract the dead with trivial tasks. Leaving an eyeless needle that can never be threaded or sprinkling a handful of sesame seeds to be counted will keep the deceased busy so they won’t hear the bokor call their name. 

How Death Got His Scythe

In Eastern Europe, many corpses were found buried with a sickle or scythe positioned across their necks. The idea here is that if a corpse rose from its grave, the sickle would slice the head off. 

People finding these bodies in the Middle Ages associated the sickle and scythe with the apparition of death. 

The reason we see burial stones in the shape of a cross is yet another way to keep the dead where they belong. The sign of the cross was thought to deter an evil spirit. Even a sword, with its cross-like hilt, stabbed into the he grave soil will do the job.

A Coin is Your Ticket to the Afterlife

One superstition, dating back to the ancient Greeks, is to place a coin in the mouth of the deceased. The name for this offering is “Charon’s obol”. An obol is a measure of currency. The Greeks believed that the dead spirit traveled to the underworld where it needed to cross the River Styx. Charon was the ferryman tasked with taking souls across the river. But he didn’t work for nothing. The coin was a bribe to make sure your loved one reached the afterlife. Otherwise, they might return as an evil spirit. 

Greeks are obsessed with the idea of keeping at least one coin on their person at all times. Your pocket or purse should always have at least one coin. Even your bank account needed a little something. This superstition was meant to ensure that you always had money. 

Never Dress Your Corpse in Red

Apparently it’s a difficult journey from the grave to the afterlife. The Chinese believe that a soul travels through the ten Magistrates of Hell, where they face faces trials and torments (one for each sin they committed in life). To ease this journey, monks chanted around the deceased to get them through the Courts of Hell as quickly as possible. There would also be a group of people gambling. The idea being that the corpse must be guarded day and night and the gambling kept the people awake and alert. 

The color red signifies happiness. After a death, all statues of deities in the house should be covered with red paper, to protect them from the corpse. Mirrors are also removed because to see the reflection of a coffin means that you will shortly die. 

The deceased is never dressed in red because this will cause the corpse to return as a ghost. 

Dead Flesh Chewing Gum

In Turkey, gum chewing is perfectly fine so long as it happens during daylight hours. If you chew gum at night, it transforms into the flesh of the dead. The color of Turkish gum is very similar to skin tone and can be mistaken as flesh. 

Additionally, you are not supposed to trim your nails at night otherwise a djinn will paralyze you.

Tim Kane

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