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Olympian and chthonic

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Olympian and chthonic

Post  Soteriology on Mon Aug 19, 2013 7:27 am

Hello everybody,

This forum looks very good and serious, and I am very glad I found it!

Sometimes I read about a distinction between what is called olympian cult on the one hand, and chthonic cult on the other. What is the the deeper meaning of that?

Would it be a justified interpretation to say that the olympian side of the cult relates to sublime questions of bigger existential significance such as morality, meaning of life and salvation; while the chthonic side is related to things more mundane, such as making ordinary life work out?

I would be very grateful for any reflections and suggestions.

All the best!
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Re: Olympian and chthonic

Post  Erodius on Mon Aug 19, 2013 3:09 pm

The difference is relatively simple. A chthonian deity is any that is tied primarily to the terrestrial world — the root is from the Greek 'χθών' meaning, 'the ground' or 'the earth'. Chthonian deities are most often described, genealogically, as offspring of Olympian deities in conjunction with Titans or Titanides (the subdued, but still rebellious children of Earth).

Cultically, chthonian deities feature, due to their greater proximity to humanity, as more 'accessible' to mortals' worship. Cultically, most chthonian deities are also described often as terrestrial extensions/representatives/hypostases of Heavenly/Olympian deities. There are a variety of chthonian Joves — i.e. the various Bacchi, Sarapis, Pluto, the Good Spirit, sometimes Vulcan/Ήφαιστος; chthonian Apollines and Artemides — i.e. Asclepius and Prothyraea; and so on.

Although Olympian deities are certainly accessible in, and may receive worship, chthonian deities abound in more personal and private religious expression, and feature abundantly in the salvific Mystery religions, especially.

Would it be a justified interpretation to say that the olympian side of the cult relates to sublime questions of bigger existential significance such as morality, meaning of life and salvation; while the chthonic side is related to things more mundane, such as making ordinary life work out?
That is a sensible way to phrase it in general, however, as I mentioned, the division between Olympian and chthonian cult is sometimes rather blurry, especially in terms of deities who are considered to be chthonian forms of Olympian deities. And, in terms of the theology of the Mystery religions — from the living Orphic religion (of which I am an adherent), what we know of the cult at Eleusis, as well as the characteristics of Christianity, although it is a Heavenly deity who is ultimately responsible for finalizing the individual's salvation (called Supreme Jove, Dēmētra, and Iehovah, respectively) in each case, it is a chthonian hypostasis of the aforementioned deity (Eubuleus, Cora, and Jesus, respectively) who is immediately/directly responsible for bringing the earth-bound individual to that salvation, acting as a sort of 'bridge' to close the gap between the distant Heavenly deity, and the earthly, mortal individual.

As with most religions, Classical Olympianism has exoteric forms and esoteric forms. As such, virtually any deity will be ascribed mundane roles in the exoteric religion, and sublime roles in the esoteric — which will typically be rooted in two different explanations, a mundane and an ethereal, of a same particular concept or myth associated with the said deity.

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"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
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