Sophia, personification of wisdom, presents very different aspects depending on where you look. In the Old Testament she is “the first of God’s works”, and the books of Proverbs and Wisdom portray her as an active, independent figure who gives instruction to all who heed her. Later the Gnostics would see her as an emanation of Divine Light, often paired with the Christ, although in Greek myth Sophia was an abstract personification with no myth.
Later Western Christian theology merged her with Mary, while the Russian and Orthodox churches saw Wisdom as part of Christ. Her apotheosis came in modern times, beginning with Theosophy and culminating in the Goddess and feminist spirituality movements, who consider Sophia a Goddess with a capital G.
The Egyptian goddess Seshat is one of the lesser-known Egyptian deities, and yet she was an enduring one. Her name means “Female Scribe” and the art of the scribe was her area: the burgeoning state of Egypt needed to keep records, formalize contracts and agreements, and make blueprints for buildings. This made her a useful deity, but also limited her cult, as we shall see.
Although it’s common in popular books on mythology to describe the Roman goddess Minerva as a simple copy of the Greek goddess Athena, Minerva evolved as a native Italian goddess, influenced by the Etruscan Menvra.
The Irish goddess Boand is famous for two things: she is the mother of the young god Aengus, whom she carried to term in a single (nine-month-long) day, and the river Boyne is named for her, after she caused it to gush forth from a magical well.
Norse mythology has many puzzles, and one of them is the imbalance in numbers between Aesir and Vanir. The Aesir, who incude Odin and Thor among their number, seem to have many associated gods and goddesses, while the Vanir seem to have only three: Njord, Freyr and Freyja.
This week’s post could easily have been called “fearsome deities“: Odin, whose name means “fury”, and the Morrigan, who steps out of the fairy realm to stir up war and slaughter. It’s not hard to see what they have in common.
We’re all familiar with nose-to-tail eating, the idea that you should use all of an animal once it’s been slaughtered. Thanks to the taboo on cannibalism and various laws about indignity to dead bodies, we tend not to put human bodies to post-death use. Gods, however, are not so squeamish. The Norse gods in particular show thrift and ingenuity, as well as a strong stomach, in their use of their dead compatriots.
I should point out that the Norse gods could, on occasion, lay on a proper funeral: Baldr was buried with full honours. But the dead bodies of one giant and two gods were clearly too valuable to be left lying around.
Odin and Brigit may not seem like the most similar deities, but they actually do have more in common than you might think. Both are patrons of poets, both give up an eye voluntarily, and both these losses are connected with water.
You might wonder, why are salmon wise? Their ability to return to their birthplace to spawn may have given rise to the idea that they had special knowledge. Their travelling between salt and fresh water shows an adaptability most fish don’t have, and their jumping (immortalized in the Celtic warrior’s salmon leap) is impressive, and gives them their English name (from Latin salire, to jump).