The Dying God: Crash Course World Mythology #19


Hey there, I’m Mike Rugnetta! This is Crash Course Mythology and today We’re going to talk about the dying god, a specific archetype of god that might seem counterintuitive, considering lots of the myths we’ve already talked about feature gods who are immortal. The dying god trope, though, is one found in many regions throughout the world, but especially in the Greco-Hellenistic Roman World, which includes Egypt. Don’t worry, though! Thoth is fine, he’s just more like a death secretary. Alright, let’s go. *Crash Course Intro* The dying god is, you guessed it, a god who dies and is often but not always reborn. Sometimes gods die for the benefit of their people, in which case, they’re a savior as we discussed in a previous episode. Other times, the god is reborn actually or symbolically. So these stories also have something in common with the myths that represent regeneration or seasonal rebirth. In the west, the most well-known story of a dying god is, of course, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. We’re not going to get into that one here because it’s a widely studied story that y’all are likely familiar with. Instead, let’s start with an iconic dying god from Ancient Greece. The Story of Adonis. Nowadays, calling some dude an Adonis is shorthand for saying that he is super hot. But, originally, Adonis was the Greco-Roman Version of a semitic God, sometimes Identified with Osiris. In Semitic languages like Hebrew, Adonis’s Name is Adonai or Lord. So Adonis’s significance goes way beyond killer abs. In some versions of the Adonis’s story, his mother was a virgin. In others, he’s the result of incest between his mother and her father, the King. Still, other versions claim that Adonis may have been born out of a myrrh tree. So, for those of you keeping track at home, we’ve had several brain baby, a thigh baby, one stone baby and now our first tree birth. Probably the best known version of the Adonis myth comes from Ovid’s metamorphoses which details Venus’s mad love for the beautiful young god. However, we can’t give Adonis all the credit. Venus only fell for him after one of Cupid’s arrows grazed her breast. She leaves Olympus to chase Adonis around the wood. She warned him not to be too risky in his hunting, but as you can probably guess, Adonis does not listen. He’s killed by a boar that gore him in the groin, Ouch. When she finds him dying, Venus is distraught. Brutal. Venus, history’s first black metal lyricist. She, then, sprinkles nectar on Adonis’s blood and it transforms into a red anemone flower. This flower is born, lives, dies and is reborn again – each year – like flowers do, so it’s a symbolic reminder of the cyclical nature of the seasons and perhaps, our grief. Thoth – you get all misty-eyed or is it just allergies? Seeing the same flower die every year might be kind of sad, but in another way, it’s a hopeful symbol, for the idea that maybe death isn’t final after all. Now, let’s turn to one of the most famous dying gods, our friend Odin, who hanged himself from the World Tree – Yggdrasil – as a sacrifice in order to gain the Knowledge of Runes. He doesn’t really die in most versions of the myth, but he does suffer. Both from hanging and from being pierced in the side with a sword. Note the parallels with the death of Jesus here #dyinggods There’s also Balder, a Norse god, who actually does die. Like Adonis, Balder is often described as beautiful and beloved by all the gods Except, of course, for Loki, who as I may have mentioned is: the worst. Loki was jealous of Balder’s popularity and schemed to have him killed by the one thing that he was vulnerable to: you’re not going to guess what it is It’s mistletoe. So think of that at the next office Christmas Party, hm? His mother, Frigg, had gotten every substance on Earth to swear not to bring harm to Balder, except from mistletoe, because she thought that it didn’t matter. Loki crafted a dart from mistletoe and got the blind god, Hodr, to throw it at Balder while everyone else was having fun throwing stuff at him because he’s invulnerable. Norse gods sure do know how to party. Balder dies and goes down to single hockey stick, Hell, the place. His mother asks for volunteers to try to bring him back and Balder’s brother, Hermod steps up, saddles up and rides down to hell. Hel, the person who minds Hell, the place, isn’t particularly moved. But as underworld gods are often want to do she decides to make a deal. She says that if everyone on Earth will weep for Balder and she’ll let him return. Turns out, Balder was so beloved that everyone and everything on Earth did weep for him, Except for one giantess named Thokk who says, Harsh, Thokk. What Balder ever do to you? Jeez. So Balder doesn’t come back from the dead all because of Thokk. Though, if you ask the other gods, they’ll point out something very interesting, isn’t Loki, who’s the worst, a shapeshifter And have you ever seen him and Thokk in the same room? Just Saying. These are the reasons Loki Is the worst. Far from being a bittersweet reminder of life’s impermanence, Balder’s death foreshadows Ragnarok, the literal Death and Rebirth of everything. More on that in a few episodes. (If the world doesn’t end) The story of the Corn Mother, a great goddess from native American Mythology is one where the dying god, specifically makes sacrifices in order to bring salvation to her people. Thought Bubble, this one’s a little grisly but we think he can handle it. The first mother was born from a drop of dew during the time when the All-Maker was creating all sorts of things. She was a beautiful young woman who upon being born proclaimed, All-Maker certainly loved her and together they bore the first people. Following All-Maker’s instructions, the people learned to hunt. In time, they became so good at it that they exhausted all the game on the Earth. Then, the people began to starve and this made the first mother very sad because she had made the people and now couldn’t do anything to help. Her husband didn’t want to see the first mother so sad and asked what he could do to stop her weeping. The first mother replied with the only thing he could do: Kill her. Her husband refused at first but eventually he relented and asked the first mother, how he should do it, first mother told him that when the sun was at its highest point, he should kill her and have two of her sons dragged her by the hair over the barren Earth until all the flesh had been scraped from her body, then they were to take her bones and bury them and wait seven months before returning. At this time, their mother’s flesh would feed the people. The husband and son did what the first mother said and waited sadly for seven months to return to the place where first mother’s flesh had been stripped from her bone. There they found plants with tassels of hair, silky like the first mother’s and sweet fruit that they could eat. This was corn and as the first mother promised, it fed the people. From then on, her sacrifice being repeated and renewed every seven months. Thank you, Thought Bubble. After the discovery of corn, the people of Earth went back to the place where they’d buried her bones and they found another plant with sacred leaves, that when burned would clear their minds and help them with their prayers. This was tobacco. So, thanks? Yeah that one’s a lot more tricky, just ask… Well we’re gonna get to trickster gods in the next episode. So, the first mother now called the Corn Mother saved the native American people from starvation. There’s an amazing blend of archetypes in this story. Obviously, there’s the Earth Mother who gave birth to humanity, and cares for them. Like human mothers, she weeps at her helplessness when her children suffer and she’s willing to sacrifice anything, including her body so that her children will survive. In this sacrifice, she also plays the role of the savior which is more typically a role performed by male gods in myths. The Corn Mother is also a culture hero, her sacrifice transforms a hunting people into an agricultural people, though many native Americans in North America pursued both hunting and agriculture simultaneously as means of subsistence. The Corn Mother here by providing an alternative form of food enabled the animals to recover, providing game for the people. And in addition to providing food, the Corn Mother gave the people tobacco which became an important part of their religious ritual and other practices. Many of the dying god stories involve cycles, whether it’s Adonis and the annual flower or the corn Mother and the annual harvest, these stories remind us that birth is often twinned with death, which may make the latter inevitability easier to accept, and the Corn Mother story adds an extra layer in reminding us that motherly sacrifices enable all life. We’ve seen the idea of god sacrificing themselves as the foundation of Creation before, Tongu’s body became the Earth’s, the body and bones of Amir became the Earth’s and the Mountains, and his skull became the sky Gaia gave birth to the mountains of the oceans. It’s not surprising that throughout most of human history, when child birth was much more likely to end in the mother’s death, that we find stories where gods sacrificed themselves so that humans can live. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next time. Check out our Crash Course Mythology Thoth tote Bag and Poster Available now at dftba.com Crash Course mythology is filmed in the Chad and Stacey Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis, Indiana and introduced with the help of all of these very nice people, our animation team is Thought Cafe. Crash Course exists thanks to the generous support from our Patreons at Patreon. Patreon is a voluntary subscription service where you can support the content you love through a monthly donation and help keep Crash Course free for everyone forever. Crash Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud, check the description for a link to a free trial. Thanks for watching, and hey, Balder does not appreciate your jokes.

100 comments

  1. “Birth is interlaced with Death” That’s why Thanatos and Hypnos are twins, Hypnos represents sleep. Sleep is basically rebirth and Thanatos is Thanatos (Death)

  2. Mythology question, hoping you can answer this. Why did underworlds/afterlives sometimes share the names of their rulers, such as Hel or Hades? I actually cannot think of any other examples but I'm sure they're out there (if they are, lemme know). Thanks.

  3. what are the gods ideas of death anyways I mean humans often worship or really fear the god of death so what are the gods idea of the death god of gods so to speak

  4. i wouldn't wanna be one these gods just 'cause the goddess are overweight. blah fat people are gross 😡

  5. First of all, Mike Rugnetta looks and sounds like a soy boy.

    Anyway.

    The story of the first mother sounds very similar to fables about deities passed in East Asian myths and Indo-European myths. I find it most striking how similar it is to the myth of Uke Mochi. The gist of the story is that Okami-Inari's on again off again wife. Uke Mochi, is visited by Amaterasu's brother, Tsukuyomi. In honor of his visit, she prepares a feast for him by creating food out and with her own body (she vomits up fish and rice, as well as others meals from 'other' places). Admittedly it's all pretty gross, and Tuskuyomi is so disgusted by this that he killed Uke Mochi without a second thought.

    After she dies, her body decays into grain and beans and rice and silkworms. After this, Amaterasu is very upset, as Uke Mochi was a friend of hers, yells at her brother, and refuses to ever look at him again. This is suppose to explain the phases of the sun and moon, and Amaterasu is the sun goddess, and Tsukuyomi is the moon god. As for the now single Okami-Inari, he uses his sorta-wife's death to take on the role of a food god, feeding the world. He even sometimes takes on her appearance, making Inari a sort of transexual god/goddess.

    For the last interesting tid-bit, the main Mongolian goddess is a powerful woman who's domains are both the sun and the moon, with long golden hair an blue eyes named Umai. Specifically, her role is in dealing with life and death itself. She watches over pregnant women, their kids after they are born, and is the one who removes the fire from the bodies when they die. In Mongolian and Turkish influenced languages, Umai means womb, while Umai in Japanese means something along the lines of "Tasty". Also Uke (or Uka) means something along the lines of food. Some have speculated that both Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Uke Mochi are all based upon this single deity, Umai, or her Chinese counterpart Xi Wangmu , Queen mother of the west.

  6. I have come to the conclusion thst mike is seriously into some obscure metal. So far i have seen him make references to power metal, death metal and blavk metal.

  7. I love all of the myths that you explore EXCEPT the "Native American" ones… (Even your African ones aren't half bad…) But I have never heard an Indian describe their stories they way that you do. I don't know any Indian who uses "Native American"… and most prefer the specific name of their people. (In the same way that most Africans wouldn't describe themselves as African.) The Native American myths sound really … white-washed? colonialized? from the version of the oppressor? I am very interested in Indian stories… if you speak with an Indian person directly, please include their myths. (With the specific name of the people…)

  8. I don't know if anyone else has already pointed this out, but Loki is Hell's father. Maybe not the best father ever, but isn't it possible that may have gone some way to motivate him as well? It's always struck me that this may have had a small effect.

  9. Is Prometheus also not a dying god? I know he doesn't technically die, but giving humans free will "Fire" at the sarcrifice of his eternal suffering is pretty thoughtful.

  10. One of the problems with the human race in materialism and literal reality is that there is no message content, where it is meaningless, it is absurd, and it is only physical death. The dying gods give an example of the spiritual meaning of death so that we can take a moral lesson and run with it, because this death has meaning.

  11. In Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma),
    *) Shiva (the God of Destruction) killed the God Yama but later resurrected Yama and made him the 'God of Death'.
    *) Kama (God of Love) shot Shiva who was meditating with arrows of love. Shiva awakened from his meditation in rage and his third eyed opened with yogic fire shooting out at Kama who was burned to ashes. Rati (Spring) now Kama's widowed wife lamented and prayed to Shiva to be merciful on her. Shiva granted her the benediction that Kama (Love), her husband will live on in invisible form spread through the universe and that she will again get Kama as her husband in physical form when he is reborn as Pradyumnya the son of Krishna (Vishnu's next avatar).
    *) Several of Vishnu's Avatars in order to leave the mortal world for returning to the spiritual world had to die.
    *) Shiva had to take an avatar to kill NaraSima (Vishnu's Man/Lion) avatar to stop NaraSima's rage destroying the universe.
    *) Sri Krishna died after being shot in the foot by a hunter and later story of Achilles has this incident.
    *) Brahma (the Creator of the universe) is slowly dying. When the universe has reached time for complete destruction Brahma along with the universe will be destroyed by Shiva then Brahma and all souls will be absorbed by Vishnu who will give new life to Brahma who in turn will start the process of creation again with the souls of the destroyed universe taking on new lifeforms.
    *) Brahma, the God of Creation had 5 heads. One of the heads demanded to be worshipped. Shiva cut off the head because anyone demanding to be worshipped was not worthy of worship. Brahma was left with 4 heads meaning his power was reduced by 20%
    *) The 33 Devas/Divine-Beings (not 330 million Gods as falsely claimed by Anti-Hindi Propagandists) of Swarga Loka (Heavenly Realm) namely Indra (King of Swarga Loka) and his royal Court drank the Nectar of Immortality given by Mohini (Vishnu's Avatar). The other citizens/Devas, Gandharas, Kinnaras, Apsaras, Nagas, Yakshas of the Heavenly Realm who didn't drink the Nectar can and do die especially in wars defending against attacks by the Asuras.
    *) ETC …

  12. There is actually a rather clear reason why Adonis did not fall for Venus's beauty and constantly rejected her. Let's just say that nowadays, we wouldn't say "boar" but "bear" instead 👬🌈🍑

  13. Those aren't gods. Those are people who listened to Satan and imagined themselves as gods but Jesus said they would die like men. And it has been so.

  14. So, why do you like telling these stories that were passed down from different groups about their gods? I am just curious.

    I remember learning about the gods that the Egytians worshipped but their ideas of there being many gods is really ridiculous.

    There is no one that compares to my God. That's because there can only be one God. Besides Him, there is no other.

    I am thankful I was not alive then. I imagine I would have been an Atheist, unless my God made Himself known to me there as He has in my life now.

  15. Frigg: Everyone must weep for my son.
    Thokk: Thokk that, Thokk your son and Thokk you.

    When someone tells you to Thokk off, what they're really trying to express is; "[I] will weep dry tears at your funeral. I never cared for [you] – alive or dead, I have no use for [you]. I hope you burn in Hell."

  16. In Norse mythology the whole world is also supposed to me made out of a butchered giantess, not a god and didn’t die voluntarily but eh

  17. Saying Native American is such a broad blanket term. It's like saying European when you mean Wales. You should say what tribe the corn mother comes from. Because different tribes have different beliefs.

  18. Adonis was mortal and the Hebrews have nothing to do with his story. Although the Hebrews may have got their ban on eating pork from the deed of some murdering boar of non-Hebrew legend. The dying gods used to be called dying and rising gods until somebody figured out that they all stay dead except for Jesus. This guy fudges things together for political reasons, don't trust him.

  19. I love ‪it‬ how everything always comes back to “Because Loki is the worst.” Lol! ‪He could be talking about any culture’s stories and “because Loki is the worst” would come up. 😂

  20. No mention of Inanna/Ishtar getting killed for crashing her brother-in-law's funeral butt-naked to score free booze? For shame, Crash Course, for shame.

  21. Anyone here after read Rick Riordan?
    4:04 "You're not going to guess what it is! It's Mistletoe."
    Yeah I knew that, ty Magnus Chase

  22. It seems perfectly reasonable that we have a need to have a Diety, or version of one, that follows the same path as Humanity….one to which we can approach that which no human can escape, the finality of Death.

  23. Tobacco remains an important part to the beliefs of many First Nation people. It is central to many rites and votaries of the modern shamanic traditions.

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