10 Weird Gods and Goddesses
The myths and legends espoused by the religions of the world appear as a welcome effusion of the imagination in an otherwise spartan literary environment. Gods and goddesses from Egypt to the Caribbean embody many of our deepest desires and taboos. Whether it be sexual ecstasy, incest, or cannibalism, we are left to look down our noses with a thinly hidden sense of fascination for the eccentric and weird lives of these infamous deities.
What follows are ten of the weirdest gods and goddesses. They hail from eight different world religions, past and present; and they are a reminder that religious belief and absurdity too often go hand in hand!
- Origin: Scandinavia.
Loki is a malevolent Nordic god who can transform into people and animals to enact his pernicious schemes. Loki's weirdest moment occurred when he made a bet with a giant who had been employed to build a protective wall for the gods. The giant was offered the goddess Freya if he could complete the wall on time. However, the giant used a stallion who hauled the bricks much faster than the gods expected.
Faced with losing the bet and being killed by his fellow gods, Loki transformed himself into a mare and wooed the giant's stallion. The ensuing `act of love' led to Loki giving birth to an eight-legged spider-horse (for whatever reason). With his stallion occupied by Loki, the giant lost the bet and was killed by Thor.
- Origin: Northern India; Nepal.
This Hindu and Buddhist goddess of self-sacrifice and sexual restraint cut off her own head and enjoys parading around with it while three spurts of blood flow from her open neck. As if it couldn't get any weirder, her severed head and two of her attendants drink the spurting blood.
Chinnamasta literally means `she whose head is severed' and there are several myths regarding why this occurred. One legend claims that a number of Hindu gods and demons churned the ocean to extract an immortality elixir. Chinnamasta is said to have drunk the demon's share of the spoils before decapitating herself to prevent them from reclaiming it. Another myth states that Chinnamasta and her attendants were bathing for too long, leading to their extreme hunger. Like any merciful goddess, she satiated their appetite by decapitating herself and allowing them to drink her blood.
- Origin: Ancient Greece
Pan has the hind legs and horns of a goat, and is one of the oldest Greek deities. He is the god of shepherds, flocks, hunters, forests, and pastoral music. However, he is also a fertility symbol with a ravenous sexual appetite. Indeed, one legend claims that Pan was the progeny of a union between Odysseus's lonely wife and her 108 suitors.
Suffice to say, Pan would attempt to copulate with anything that moved, including goddesses, nymphs, women, men, and even animals. Pan attempted to seduce the nymph, Syrinx, and pursued her when she ran away. When Syrinx's sisters turned her into a reed, the love-struck Pan created the `pan flute' from her remains. The nymph, Echo, also refused Pan, prompting the angry god to order his minions to kill her.
Our favorite sex-pest was rejected again when the nymph, Pitys, fled his lecherous advances. To escape him, the other gods turned her into a pine tree! Even more bizarre, though fitting for a fertility symbol, was Pan's ability to duplicate himself into a swarm of Pans. These recreations were variations on the original theme, with goat-like attributes and lustful urges. Pan is also one of the few gods to have actually died, though it is unclear how this occurred.
4. Inanna (Ishtar)
- Origin: Mesopotamia (Iraq)
Inanna is the Sumerian goddess of sex, war, and fertility. She later became known as Ishtar, and is associated with lions and the planet Venus. Inanna is known for her capricious and prolific sexual desires and unions. She was once raped by a lowly gardener called Shukaletuda while she slept under his poplar tree. In a fit of rage, she turned the rivers to blood, covered the Earth with storms, and tormented the people with disease. She eventually found her attacker and killed him.
Inanna has a tendency to kill or sacrifice her lovers. In the Epic of Gilgamesh she tries to seduce King Gilgamesh. When he refuses, she releases the Bull of Heaven in an attempt to kill him. Gilgamesh's refusal focuses on his concern for the fate of her numerous past lovers. This includes the speckled allallu-bird whose wing she broke, the lion who she dug a pit for, the horse who she consigned to being whipped and lashed, the shepherd who she turned into a wolf, and the gardener who she turned into a dwarf.
When Inanna gains access to the underworld to attend the funeral of the Bull of Heaven (who Gilgamesh killed), the ruler, Ereshkigal, makes her pass through seven gates. At each gate she is told to remove a piece of clothing or jewelry until she is naked and powerless. The audacious Inanna sits on Ereshkigal's throne and is punished by being turned into a corpse and hung upside-down from hooks. Many of the gods blame Inanna for her fate, but Enki decides to rescue her. As no-one can leave the underworld, a deal is struck in which someone must take her place. Inanna refuses to sacrifice one of her servants, but she has no problem with Ereshkigal taking her husband, Dumuzi, who she thought hadn't mourned her enough. The poor Dumuzi is dragged into the underworld by demons, and Inanna has the temerity to mourn him.
- Origin: Ancient Greece
Cronus was leader of the Titans; a pantheon of Greek gods that came before Zeus. Uranus and the goddess Gaia were parents of all the Titans, and Cronus was their preeminent and jealous son. When Uranus hid some of Gaia's children in a deep abyss called Tartarus, Gaia asked her remaining children to castrate Uranus. The psychotic Cronus stepped up to perform the deed. He scythed off his fathers genitals and threw them into the sea where they bubbled up and spawned the goddess, Aphrodite.
After freeing Gaia's children (which included the Cyclopes), Cronus decided to re-imprison them, claim Uranus' throne, and marry his own sister, Rhea. Gaia then predicted that one of Cronus' children would overthrow him. As a paranoid lunatic, Cronus decided to eat his children as they were born to prevent this from transpiring. However, Rhea and Gaia hid baby Zeus, giving Cronus a rock wrapped in baby clothes to eat instead. The unhinged cannibal ate the rock, and Zeus grew up to fulfill the prophecy. Cronus was thrown into Tartarus, though he may have been released to rule over a distant land. Indeed, the Romans later adopted him as the god, Saturn.
6. Sheela Na Gigs
- Origin: Ireland and Britain
Sheela Na Gigs literally means "the old hag of the breasts". The name refers to a number of stone figurines from Ireland and Britain depicting a woman with an exposed and exaggerated vulva. Popular myths claim she was a lustful pagan goddess who threw herself at men by showing them her `lady parts'. Most men rejected the old hag, though when they occasionally accepted, Sheela transformed herself into a beautiful woman and granted kingship to the lucky man.
Sheela Na Gigs is also known as a fertility goddess, and her figurines have been used at weddings and births. Another theory relates her to the pagan practice of anasyrma, in which women lifted up their skirts to scare off evil spirits! This would suggest that Sheela was a protector against evil.
- Origin: Ancient Egypt
This Egyptian goddess of nature, motherhood, and magic married her brother, Osiris, who was lord of the underworld. Osiris warred with their other brother, Set, leading to Osiris being killed and scattered into fourteen pieces across Egypt. The grief-stricken Isis scoured the country to retrieve the pieces, but there was one piece she couldn't find. Apparently, Osiris' manhood had been swallowed by a fish.
Isis used her magic to rebuild Osiris' body. In place of his genitals she used a golden phallus. Isis imbued Osiris with temporary life, and had sexual intercourse with his gold-augmented corpse. Osiris died again soon after, and the necrophile goddess gave birth to Horus. Isis had to protect Horus from Set until he was old enough to claim power by defeating his uncle. Indeed, the name Isis means `throne', making her a symbol of the pharaoh's power.
8. Baron Samedi
- Origin: Haiti
Baron Samedi is a voodoo god of the dead, though he is frequently associated with obscenity, chaos, debauchery and intoxication. Perhaps the weirdest thing about this god is his appearance. He is a reanimated skeleton who wears sunglasses, a top hat, and a tuxedo. Samedi also sports cotton nasal plugs, resembling a corpse prepared for burial.
Baron Samedi's job is to greet the dead when they die, before leading them to the underworld. He also digs their graves and ensures their corpses rot in the ground to prevent them returning as zombies. In his spare time he loves drinking rum, smoking cigars, chasing women, and swearing profusely. However, he is also a curer of disease and protector from death, as only he can decide when a person crosses into the afterlife.
- Origin: Ancient Greece
Dionysus is the Greek god of wine, intoxication, chaos, and ritual frenzy. With a résumé like that, he was always going to be a bit weird. This androgynous god began life as a premature baby when his mother died after gazing upon the glory of his father, Zeus. Unable to survive on his own, Zeus sewed Dionysus into his thigh until he was able to be reborn.
Myths tell us that Dionysus was brought up as a girl to hide him from Zeus' wife, Hera. He became a bisexual god, and his rituals involved transvestism and the blurring of sexual roles. When discovered by Hera, he was driven mad and forced to wander the Earth. On at least two occasions he was kidnapped by sailors, though Dionysus turned the oars of their boats into snakes and the sailors into dolphins. When Dionysus was helped by King Midas, he gave Midas the power to turn objects into gold. However when King Lycurgus offended him, Dionysus convinced Lycurgus that his son was a patch of ivy to be cut to pieces. He then told the population that their famine would only end when Lycurgus was dead. The people tore the King to pieces.
The young Dionysus was lured into a cave by the Titans (older gods) who proceeded to slit his throat, boil and roast his flesh, and eat him for dinner. Attracted by the sweet smell, Zeus arrived, resurrected his son, and killed the Titans. Dionysus also had the power to bring the dead back to life, and he used this to restore his mother. A further power was his ability to induce mass hysteria and madness. This led to a number of dissenters being torn to pieces by his cult of female followers. Mimicking his own death, cannibalism sometimes followed.
10. The Abrahamic God
- Origin: Israel
Despite the many weird stories that appear in the Bible, the Christian god is widely worshiped. In one such story, God is busy destroying the city of Sodom with fire and brimstone. He instructs his Jewish followers to flee the carnage, but specifically tells them not to cast their eyes upon his shameful annihilation of the heretics. Unfortunately, the wife of Lot is unable to resist this temptation. She turns to witness the destruction and is transformed into a pillar of salt. God knows why, literally.
Another bewildering story is that of Abraham and his son, Isaac. God dares Abraham to demonstrate his faith by sacrificing his son. The unerringly devoted Abe places Isaac on an alter and is about to slit his throat when God relents, claiming it was all a test. One has to wonder how Isaac felt about all this.
Finally, there is the notion of God being three entities in one. One of these is Jesus, who is created when God impregnates the Virgin Mary with himself, is born into the world, espouses his own magnificence for a few decades, is summarily executed by the Romans, and is resurrected to show us he's not really dead. It turned out that the Christian God wanted to be executed so his act of self-sacrifice could somehow overturn the sins of all humankind.
The Weirdest Deities
The imagination of our ancestors in creating these myths and legends has allowed us to enjoy a facet of human nature that is so often suppressed by the teachings of many world religions.
While this list includes many weird gods and goddesses, there are undoubtedly others who are being neglected. As a result, you, the reader, are invited to impart your wisdom regarding weird and wonderful deities in the comments section below!
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© 2013 Thomas Swan