16 February 2007

Ancient Temple Tricks

So I was watching another documentary, on The History Channel this time, called "Ancient Discoveries" and the episode was focusing on "Machines of the Gods". And let me tell you, it was mindblowingly fascinating. Turns out that in ancient times folks were drawn to temples not just for the sake of worship but also to see one heck of a show. All the "miracles" you've ever heard about happening in a church have their basis in ancient pagan temple tricks and illusions. Statues that cry tears of blood? Yep, that was invented in ancient times. By manipulating water pressure, air pressure and simple gravity many liquid-based amazing illusions were made real to ancient pagans. They were masters, especially a fella called Heron of Alexandria. There were statues of multiple-breasted goddesses (Cybele for example) that had milk piped into them so the breasts would actually lactate-a lot. There were countless statues and plaques that by clever use of some fancy plumbing produced life-like moans. There were technically simple but quite convincing thunder machines. There were speaking tubes inside statues and figures of deities that enabled priests to "speak" for the gods. There's also evidence that the ancients not only knew about magnetism but were experts at manipulating magnetic objects in order to make a heavy metal chariot fly as Helios, later Apollo, would drive the sun chariot across the sky. Fascinating, fascinating stuff. If you get the chance, see the show or visit the website.

Not only is it just amazing to think of the genius of these ancient illusionists but it further cements my feeling that we should not try too hard to resurrect ancient paganism because there were many aspects of it that were just as deceptive, dishonest and cruel as the dominant modern religions that so many neo-pagans feel the need to lambaste at any given opportunity. I try to make a point of stressing the differences between the old and the new and the afore-mentioned documentary really brings up some important concepts. Obviously, there aren't too many ancient-style pagan temples in my neck of woods, Middle of Nowhere, USA, but I can still wonder about the implications of these ancient forms of "sacred trickery" and I use that term loosely because I'm not sure what else to call it. These ancient devices, while technically brilliant and just plain interesting, were forms of religious fraud. If someone pulled these tricks these days they might land in prison-especially if they were accepting "donations." But in the ancient days they were apparently considered necessary in order to draw the people into the temples for worship and to provide offerings to keep the temples going. One has to understand that in the ancient world temples weren't just places where people went to pray and offer sacrifices and other offerings. They served many functions: town meeting hall, entertainment complex and, most important of all, treasuries. Temples were the beating heart of ancient societies so it stands to reason the controlling priests would want to keep the situation going. What better way to do that than by hiring the best intellectual minds to design devices to thrill, frighten and, therefore, bring in the crowds?

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