In Mesopotamia, spotting a raven was once considered good luck. It was a sign of rain or a sign of a financial boon or a sign that luck had changed for the better. After the Great Flood, the hero Utnapishtum released three birds from the ark to see if it was safe to come out. It was the disappearance of bird number three, the raven, that signaled that the rains had ceased.
It’s easy to understand how the association of ravens with treasure arose: they are curious creatures who like to collect things. They are especially drawn to objects that shine, so ravens have probably collected quite a few coins. They are not hoarders, however, and quickly lose interest in their bangles. They will readily relinquish treasure. Seek out the raven for valuable windfall.
The Greeks believed the sun travels under the ocean at night. This makes sense when you consider that the sun seems to drop into the water when you are standing on the seashore facing west. The god of the sea, Poseidon (Roman name Neptune), owns a set of horses that pull the sun through the water, the counterparts of the horses who pull the sun through the sky. These horses can be spotted near the shore occasionally, their manes twirling in white-cap waves, their feet running onto the sand.
Poseidon the water-horse god has a persistent, sometimes violent rivalry with the goddess Athena, whose sacred olive tree grows in country bordering the sea. The waves constantly batter and erode the shoreline as Poseidon seeks to expand his territory.
Poseidon the horse god was a late-comer to the Aegean who “married” a sea goddess called Amphitrite in a patriarchal takeover of an older cult. Amphitrite, who does have a querulous side like Poseidon, is the personification of the sea and a mother goddess of animals.
I saw an article this week, which I won’t link to, that described the Norse god Thor yet again as a warrior god. Thor does engage in warfare with the giants in the sagas, but I want to go beneath the patriarchal overlay and discuss what this god is really about and how he gets the hammer that he wields in legends of warfare.
Thor is a woodpecker deity. That’s how he got his red hair. His hammer came from drilling into trees. The sound of this drilling is his “thunder,” another of his attributes.
It makes sense that the woodpecker god would be associated with the spear, as Mars undoubtedly is, on account of his sharp beak. But spears are not exclusively instruments of war—more commonly, they have been used for hunting large animals. The affinity between Mars and battle speaks more of the high regard the Romans had for this deity combined with their positive view of warfare. Ever-increasing territorial expansion was the source of Roman opulence as well as, ultimately, the seeds of the Empire’s destruction. In the same vein, the Greeks, who saw war as an instrument of economic collapse, assigned warfare as the purview of a Thracian deity, Ares, whom they wished to malign. That Mars was not exclusively seen as a warrior deity even at the height of the Roman Empire is illustrated by the British and Continental Celtic gods who were syncretized with Mars, often more closely associated with grain or healing than with war.
I will add that the first planters did not use a plow but a sharpened stick like a spear. A tiny hole was dug with the stick and the seed was placed in the hole. This mimicked the motion of the Green Woodpecker, who often hunts for ants on the ground by digging his beak in the soil.
People tend to take their gods into battle with them. That’s why we have so many “warrior deities.” We need to look critically at the warrior god/goddess phenomenon and not accept it unthinkingly.
I decided a few years ago that I would observe this holiday every year, after learning that it’s ill advised to clean your house during the first three days of the Chinese New Year. You’re sweeping good luck out the door if you do. I can’t say I would necessarily be cleaning on these three days if I didn’t know better, but now for three days out of the year I don’t feel like I should be cleaning.