Those Who Once Reigned: Experts Name Famous and Forgotten Ancient Gods
Ancient Origins asked experts to weigh in on the topic of ancient deities. Some ancient gods get all the attention - but which gods are largely forgotten… and why? The following is their views on individual gods that have largely been forgotten and/or which gods they believed were the most significant of the cultures they ruled over. Some of their answers may surprise you!
1. Ganesha - A Key God of Creation in India —By Laird Scranton
Key creational symbolism from India, Africa, Egypt and elsewhere is linked through the elephant god Ganesha. Phyllis Granoff of Yale University wrote an article about the eight incarnations of Ganesha. She saw that the incarnations were meant to represent progressive stages of creation, but had no context in which to understand them.
References from the Dogon tribe in Mali provide linkage to that context. From there, it becomes possible to understand the symbolism of Ganesha's mother Sati and her husband Siva, and other related Hindu deities. The correlations are relatively easy to understand, precisely because both traditions (from Africa and from India) have been well-preserved, so neither has changed much.
Ganesha Painting at a Temple in Bhadrachalam. ( Adityamadhav83/CC BY SA 3.0 )
Another significant deity would be the Dogon creator-god Amma, a "hidden god" who is a counterpart to Amen in Egypt. Reversals in symbolism suggest that Amma was originally feminine, and is now somewhat ambiguously defined by the Dogon as being both male and female. That outlook goes along with an origin for the name in India, where Amma was the affectionate name, comparable to "mommy", that Ganesha used to refer to his mother, Sati. Threads of an earlier tradition are less well-known and come out of the Sakti Cult, where Ganesha was understood to have two mothers - sister goddesses named Dharni Penu and Tana Penu.
—Author and researcher, Laird Scranton
2. The King of the World—By Mark Pinkham
One of the most important deities of any civilization was ‘he who was known as the first’ (or one of the first) of its ancient monarchs. This being is often identified by his followers as King of the (entire) World. The same ruler is alluded to by most of the ancient cultures albeit by different names and appearances. Often it is said that this royal personage was a beneficent culture bearer who taught the "path to God" but eventually experienced a fall (often through pride) and then met an untimely demise through torture and murder.
Among the Persians, this ruler is known as the renowned King of the World Jamshid, who was slain by a demon because of his pride. In the Hindu scriptures this monarch is the peacock riding King Murugan or Sanat Kumara, and among the northern Iraq sect of Yezidis he is called Tawsi Melek, the Peacock King, who is also reputed to have suffered from pride. The Sumerians called him Enki, "Lord Earth," and the Egyptians knew him as Osiris, the ancient king who traveled to his subjects around the entire globe while teaching them the art of making and consuming sacramental wine.
For the early Greeks he was the globetrotting and wine-imbibing Dionysus, who, like his counterpart Osiris, was murdered by close relatives. The Jews remember this figure as King Melchizedek and the Hopi still regularly venerate him as Masau'u, the Lord of the World - who was once sent into the underworld to rule because of his reputed fall from pride.
—Author and researcher and Ancient Origins guest author Mark Pinkham
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3. The Minoan Mother Goddess, Athena —By Petros Koutoupis
Despite our inability to decipher their language, it is well known that the Minoans worshiped a Mother Goddess who was at the very top of their pantheon. A knowledge of Linear B and Mycenaean Greek, allows one to use the same phonetic values to transliterate the Minoan Linear A. Through this, many Proper Nouns have been identified - including a very important deity who was referred to as A-ta-no-dju-wa-ja or Athena Goddess. Dju-wa-ja can be compared to the Proto-Indo-European deiwo or god, in some cases, to be associated with the Sun.