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Ancient Myths and Gods

The Lie that Tells a Deeper Truth

The story of the Armenians is filled with myths and historical facts, and it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between the two. For a country so old, and so intertwined with ancient historical events, it is easy to dismiss myths as pure legends.

But a look at the root definition of the word 'Myth' can be an eye-opener: a myth may not be just a lie, but rather a lie that tells a greater truth.

The Ancient Gods

The first god in Armenia was one of the language’s first sounds, ‘AR’, which means sun or light. As the source of life, the sun became equated with power and the supreme god.

Ararat is mentioned as early as ca. 6000 BC in the Sumerian epoch poem Gilgamesh, as the land of the mountains where the gods live. The word Ararat can be divided into three words: AR-AR-AT. AR-AR being a plural form or all encompassing god; ‘AT’ being an archaic version of the Armenian word ‘hat’, which means ‘a piece of’. Thus Ararat meant ‘a piece of gods, or a piece of creation.

Early symbols for gods are closely connected with astral symbols. The first use of the sacred swastika and cross are found in ca. 20,000-15,000 BC inscriptions in the Geghama Mountain Range. Carvings dating back to ca. 7000 BCE show symbols associated with astronomy, giving them a god like prominence: the sun, moon, and constellations were thought to be deities in themselves, and astral occurrences such as an eclipse or a comet were considered communication from the gods.

By the 5th millennium BC, Ancestral Armenians combined sun worship with sophisticated astronomy. They are now credited with assigning the constellations of the zodiac their design and names, and creating one of the first solar calendars based on 365 days in the year.

Also around the 5th millennium BC a series of Vishaps (Dragon Stones) began to be erected on mountainsides throughout Armenia, near water sources. At first resembling fish (dragons in Armenian were thought to be huge fishlike creatures, something like a cross between a whale and a gigantic squid), the monolithic stones were later carved with snakes, the heads of beasts, swastikas and crosses.

Around 3000 BC, Ancestral Armenians had created a specific iconography and pantheon of the gods. The Armenian gods were still centered on the worship of the sun, but by the Urartian period, they resembled Mesopotamian and Egyptian deities based on animal-human combinations. Human deities emerged during the Armenian Hellenistic period.

It is now thought by some that many of the Greek gods are actually inherited from Ancestral Armenian sources, some from as far away as India. The heroic legends of Hercules, for example, were first attributed to the legend of the Armenian king-god Haik in the 3rd millennium BCE.

Roots

The story of the Armenians is filled with myths and historical facts, and it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between the two. For a country so old, and so intertwined with ancient historical events, it is easy to dismiss myths as pure legends. But a look at the root definition of the word Myth can be an eye-opener: a myth is not a lie, but a story that tells a greater truth.

The Armenian language is a part of the Indo-European (Indo-Aryan) language tree, and the Indo-Europeans are believed to have originated on or near the Armenian Plateau, migrating throughout Western and Central Asia and Europe. Indo-European took more than a root language with them, they brought ideas and beliefs distinct to their native home. Among these were the zodiac and the myths that sprung from their origins. One of the destinations for the Indo-European culture was Northern India, another the Doric culture in Greece. The Sanskrit language in particular has many root words identical to those found in Armenian.

There is also a common mythology between the cultures, beginning with the myth of Vishnu in Sanskrit, and ending with Dionysus in Greek mythology. A later version of the same myth was developed in Egypt, for a new god Isis. In Armenia, the myth was represented by the god Ara Geghetsik, with origins from around 2400 BCE, the beginning of the old Armenian calendar. Another is the Armenian god-king Haik, the forerunner of the Greek Hercules.

The goddess of death by destruction is a common god form in ancient cultures, and the myth of Shiva, the most terrible and destructive of Hindu goddesses is firmly rooted in Armenian tradition. In the goddess Anahit, the Armenians have a myth so old and close to Shiva, it is considered proof of Indo-European influence on the North Indian culture. Unlike Shiva, Anahit gradually tamed her destructive influences and later generations knew her as the goddess of fertility and birth, and in Greece she was known as Artemis.

Other gods and goddesses with roots in ancestral Armenia are Aramazd (Zeus), Nouneh (Athena), Vahag’n (Hephaestus), Astghik (Aphrodite), Tir (Apollo) and Tork Angegh (Aries).

Creation Myths

This kind of myth is the oldest on earth and Armenia, sharing universal concepts of the Mother, Father, Heaven and Earth.

Heaven and Earth

Heaven and Earth were husband and wife. Between them was a heavenly sea. Heaven was also a city. Sometimes called a priceless city. Around the city was a high stone wall with a copper gate.

In the heavenly city there is a temple of light, built by stones of rainbow, with proud arches, it was a palace of light. Everything there was brilliant light. It was a wonder to see, there was no darken and no cold. That was the house and place of immortality.

Earth turns on the horns of a bull. When the bull shakes his head, earthquakes begin. Others think the earth lay on an ocean, surrounded by the body of a fish named Leviathan (In the Bible and old Jewish legends, fish was a sea devil or whale--see Jonah). The fish arches around the earth, its mouth one hand away from its tail, trying to bite it. The fish thinks its tail is a beast playing with its nose, so the fish continues to follow its tail, trying to catch and bite it. But it never will, from the beginning of the world until its end, Leviathan will never grow larger. For if it did, the world would be destroyed and end.

But as Leviathan swims and tries to catch its tail, it wiggles, and the earthquakes. On Leviathan's head is a large diamond, which shines day and night. When he swims, the diamond shines in different places of the world.

Light and Darkness

An old folk tale, this was told to children in the evening before they went to bed. It shares some images with other Minor Asia myths, but its patriarchal subject matter places it after the Mesolithic Period.

"Zhuk" (In folk Armenian zhuk means time, used it in a rhythmic phrase "Zhuk and Time" i.e. "Time and Time", meaning forever) controls light and dark on earth. Zhuk is an old white-haired man, sitting on a very high mountain. Zhuk and Time holds in his hands 2 balls of yarn, one white, and the other black. First he rolls the white ball down the mountain, and then he rolls the black. As he rolls the white yarn down one side of the mountain, he gathers the black yarn from the other side. As the white ball of yarn rolls down the mountain, sunrise begins. But when he gathers the white, and the black begins to roll down the other side, sunset begins and it becomes dark.

Darkness is reigned by Night Mothers, old witches who seduce snakes. They are the foes of sun and light, who, from the beginning of creation race after the sun that they cannot catch. When evening comes they crawl out from under the mountains to catch the sun. But the sun has already set, only its last rays shine on the world. At the moment of the last shining of the sun's rays, the Night Mothers blow together and darkness covers the world. Holding snakes, they run throughout the land. They fly into the mountains, into stones, into forests, into houses, villages and cities, thinking the sun is there. Finally, having looked everywhere and not finding the sun, they fly into an old dry well that leads to the center of the earth, under the seas, where they continue to hunt for the sun. At exactly that moment, in the East sunrise begins, and it becomes light, the sun rising from under the ground to heaven. For if the Night Mothers will ever see the face of the sun, at that moment life on earth will cease to exist. Everything will be destroyed and snakes will cover the earth.


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