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  • Queen Victoria Drinks Blood from a Skull in Tibet March 2, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern , trackback

    Leaders who think that they are gods are par for the course: the ancient Egyptians, the Persians, the medieval Japanese, Idi Amin… The insidious eastern idea of divine rulers even leapfrogged the Levant and seeped into Greece and Rome in antiquity. Alexander encountered and enjoyed the privileges of divinity as he pushed his armies east, having his Macedonian warriors bow before him. While the Roman Emperors naturally ran to divinity like a cat to cream: Vespasian’s last words – at least if we are to trust  Cassius Dio over Suetonius – even made a jest out of it, Vae, puto deus fio’, ‘hell, I think I’m becoming a god!’ There were various half-hearted Christian efforts to tie the royal families of Europe into ‘God’s bloodline’ (cue Holy Blood and Holy Grail emails) as before these same monarchs had been part of Odin’s family tree. And Arab potentates very often enjoyed direct and genuine descent from the Prophet (peace be upon his name), which while not divinity was the closest that Muslims could come to god as man. However, in the end these various forms of divinity lack the tinge of the bizarre that Beachcombing has come to expect from history. Beachcombing is looking today, instead, for a rather more rarified form of divinity: examples where a ruler has been proclaimed a god or goddess by other lands or other folks.

    An antique example is the way in which early Christians seem to have interpreted one of the late first century roman Emperors (Nero? Vespasian?) as the Antichrist: at least if Revelations is to be understood as a prophecy already underway. There is then a long list of hate figures from Diocletian through to Sadam Hussein who were then later interpreted as the Man of Sin of the New Testament. Of course, this is not quite the same as being a god, but it is divinity of sorts (ahem).

    Perhaps the canonical example in western culture is the idea that, among the Aztecs, Hernan Cortes was believed to be Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god of central America. Indeed, the conquistador was allegedly greeted by the Aztec king with the words*

    ‘My lord, you have become fatigued, you have become tired: to the land you have arrived. You have come to your city: Mexico, here you have come to sit on your place, on your throne. Oh, it has been reserved to you for a small time; it was conserved by those who have gone, your substitutes’. Then if more was needed: ‘This is what has been told by our rulers, those of whom governed this city, ruled this city. That you would come to ask for your throne, your place, that you would come here. Come to the land, come and rest: take possession of your royal houses, give food to your body.’  These references seem to stand up. Rarely has an invader had such luck…

    Beachcombing’s favourite example though is a modern one. Towards the end of the nineteenth-century Queen Victoria was believed, by Tibetans, to be a reincarnation of Palden-Llamo one of the most vicious goddesses to have ever had mortals for elevensees. Palden-Llamo is instantly recognisable in Tibetan Buddhist iconography because she has three eyes, drinks blood from a skull goblet (naturally) and is surrounded by burning fire. One Russian Czar was judged, instead, to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan religious reformer Tsong-ka-pa, which suggests that Russia was seen as less of a threat than the British Empire in the nineteenth century Himalayas. (140 Myth)

    Clearly explorers – especially ones from civilisations with a technological edge – are going to be impress those they meet: and there are lots of cases of Europeans and Americans (south and north) being proclaimed ‘special beings’, 1500-2000. But gods? Beachcombing has found disappointingly few cases. The mighty leader interpreted as a god by neighbouring, perhaps militarily inferior peoples, is far more common: but Beachcombing is always on the look out for more examples: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    BTW even by Beachcombing’s sorry standards this title may have gone too far.


    2 Mar 2011: Beach is rushing out some early answers to this post that have entertained. First, Sloop reminds Beach of the Lyndon Johnson cult in the South Pacific. Sloop is quick to point out that LBJ didn’t become a god precisely, but then, as she points out, neither was the Antichrist.  Second, how could Beachcombing have forgotten Haile Selassie’s Rastaffarian destiny in the Carribean: thanks to RE for correcting this? It’s a long way from Ethiopia to Jamaica…  Third, Beach was unaware that Prince Philip, the Queen’s consort, has recently been made into a divinity in the New Hebrides: ‘Chief Jack squatted on the ground as he told me how the Prince Philip cult had come about. It seems that it emerged some time in the 1960s, when Vanuatu was an Anglo-French colony known as the New Hebrides. For centuries, perhaps millennia, villagers had believed in an ancient story about the son of a mountain spirit venturing across the seas to look for a powerful woman to marry. They believed that unlike them, this spirit had pale skin. Somehow the legend gradually became associated with Prince Philip, who had indeed married a rich and powerful lady. Villagers would have seen his portrait – and that of the Queen – in government outposts and police stations run by British colonial officials. Their beliefs were bolstered in 1974, when the Queen and Prince Philip made an official visit to the New Hebrides. Here was their ancestral spirit, resplendent in a white naval officer’s uniform, come back to show off his bride. ‘He’s a god, not a man’, the chief told me emphatically, pointing at the portraits.’ Beach has always had a bit of a soft spot for Phil, but still! Good old Ostrich and James Mac for this precious information! Beachcombing is going to have a smile all day thanks to you.

    Fourth, Invisible has also brought in another source that surprised Beachcombing, and includes a rather unusual method of becoming a divinity. But then we are speaking of the Vikings… Watch out for Gunnar getting the divine consort pregnant: ‘Norwegian Gunnar Helming was suspected of having committed a murder. For fear of King Olaf he fled to Sweden . There happened to be great sacrifices in the honour of Freyr, and his idol had such a power that the devil spoke through it, and it had been given a young wife. People believed that they could have sexual intercourse. Freyr’s wife was pretty, and she had the dominion over the temple. Gunnar asked her for shelter. She answered: ‘You are not fortunate, for Freyr does not like you. Nevertheless, stay here for three nights, and we may see.’ He said: ‘I like better to be helped by you than by Freyr.’ Gunnar was a very jolly and cheerful person. After three nights he asked whether he might stay there any longer. ‘I do not know exactly’, said she. ‘You are a poor fellow, and still, as it seems, of good extraction, I should like to help you, only I am afraid that Freyr hates you. Still, remain here half a month, and we may again see’. Gunnar pleased the Swedes well because of his cheerfulness and smartness. After some time, he talked again with Freyr’s wife. She said: ‘People like you well, and I think it is better you stay her this winter and accompany us when Freyr makes his annual journey. But I must tell you that he is still angry with you.’ Gunnar thanked her well. . . Now the festival time came, and the procession started. Freyr and his wife were placed in the carriage, whereas their servants and Gunnar had to walk beside. When driving through the mountains, they were surprised by a tempest and all the servants fled. Gunnar remained. At last he got tired of walking, went into the carriage and let the draught cattle go as they liked. Freyr’s wife said: ‘You had better try and walk again, for otherwise Freyr will arise against you.’ Gunnar did so, but when he got too tired, he said: ‘Anyhow, let him come, I will stand against him.’ Now Freyr arises, and they wrestle till Gunnar notices that he is getting weaker. Then he thinks by himself that if he overcomes this load Foe he will return to the right faith and be reconciled with King Olaf. And immediately after Freyr begins to give way, and afterwards to sink. Now this Foe leaps out of the idol, and it lay there empty. Gunnar broke it into pieces and gave Freyr’s wife two alternatives: that he would leave, or that she might declare him publicly to be the god Freyr. She said that she would willingly declare what he liked. Now Gunnar dressed in Freyr’s clothes, the weather improved and they went to the festival. People were very much impressed by the power of Freyr, because he was able to visit the country in such a tempest, allthough all the servants had fled. They wondered how he went about among them and talked like other men. Thus Freyr and his wife spent the winter going to festivals. Freyr was not more eloquent towards people than his wife, and he would not receive living victims, as before, and no offerings except gold, silk, and good clothings. Alter months, people began to notice that Freyr’s wife was gravid [i.e. pregnant]. They thought it splendid, and many expected great wonders of their god Freyr. Also the weather was fine, and it looked like such a harvest as nobody remembered to have seen before. The rumours of Freyr’s power were reported to Norway, and also brought before King Olaf. He had some suspicion of the truth and asked Gunnar’s brother Sigurd what he knew about the exiled Sigurd knew of nothing. The King said: ‘I believe this mighty god of the Swedes, who is so famous in all countries, is no other person than your brother Gunnar. For otherwise, those are the greatest where living men, are slaughtered. . . . . Now I send you to Sweden , for it is terrible to know that a Christian man’s soul should be situated thus. I shall give up my wrath, if he comes voluntarily, for now I know that he has not committed the murder.’. . . . Sigurd immediately went to Sweden and brought his brother these news. Gunnar answered: ‘Certainly might I willingly go back; but if the Swedes discover the truth, they will kill me.’ Sigurd said: ‘We shall secretly carry you away, and be sure that King Olaf’s good fortune God’s mercy is more powerful than the Swedes.’ Now Gunnar and his wife prepare their flight, tsking with them as many goods as they were able to carry. The Swedes went in pursuit of them, but lost the trace and did not find them. So Gunnar and his people arrived in Norway and went to King Olaf, who received them well and made him his wife to be baptized.’ Fifth, several others wrote into note that Christianity was arguably based on a divinity misunderstanding: the point is an interesting one. Thanks again to Invisible, Ostrich, James Mac, RE, Sloop and all the other emailers!

    3 Mar 2011: More god material this morning. Sixth, Ricardo R. remembers Kipling’s excellent ‘The Man Who Would be King’, (supposedly based on true ‘Raj’ facts): note that Ricardo also quotes a source claiming that Cook was believed to be a god (before he was killed) on big island.KMH has also intervened: ‘Perhaps the situation might be clearer if we were to distinguish those claiming to be a real god from those claiming to be a ‘son of god’. Alexander actually claimed to be a son of Zeus, based on what the priests told him, I believe. Caesar claimed to be a son of Mars. Hercules was also a son of Zeus, as I remember. These sons were certainly given a preferential destiny and the abilities to go with it, but  were actually only flesh and blood with perhaps an exceptional soul or spirit. All that can be said is that perhaps there was a ‘divine intervention’ in the birth process by these men to produce the kind of individual wanted for that time and place.’ Beachcombing wonders if Alexander especially didn’t believe that he was rather more than flesh and blood, certainly some of the later Roman Emperors seem to have been under this illusion. In any case, KMH continues: ‘For the Hindus and Lamaists the situation goes a little  further than divine intevention. A god like Vishnu will incarnate to produce a man like Kishna (or Kalkin, the next in line) but only a portion of the god which can fit into a human frame will incarnate, not the complete god. Humans are too small to hold a real god. Even Christ had to ‘void himself’ to incarnate.’ This is all very interesting and leads Beach to a question: can two contemporaries be reincarnations of the same being? He’s found a couple of worrying examples where this seems to have happened in early twentieth century Mongolia (naturally). Thanks Ricardo and KMH!