Wednesday, March 21, 2012

God and Dog

Luna Schlosser: Miles, do you know that "God" spelled backwards is "dog"?

Thus said the ditzy Dianne Keaton character in the 1973 Woody Allen spoof "Sleeper".  It is a superficial observation that has been made over and over.

In fact it's just a linguistic coincidence.  "God" derives from an Old German word, "guthan".  Dog on the other hand is a fairly recent word whose origins have been described as "one of the great mysteries of English etymology".

But beneath the coincidence is something to ponder.  In our collective awareness matters Divine and Canine have surprisingly little overlap.  You would certainly think that the obedience, devotion and unswerving faith that dogs display to their masters would have some echo in the various faiths that Man uses to relate to his Master.  But mostly....not.

I'm not talking about depictions of gods, although even there you find very few dogs...
Anubis, technically a jackal, not a dog.  Egyptian god of mummification.  Now, as to what a real dog would do with something that smelled that ripe....

No, I am wondering why we see so few depictions of dogs as side kicks of ancient gods, perhaps being analogs of how humans relate to the divine. 

In the Christian tradition we have the Good Shepard and His flock.  Most of us do not find sheep to be particularly noble creatures, they are for one thing dumber than a box of rocks. 

Or I guess you could go with old Mithras and the bull...
But that does not seem like a real healthy relationship. 

Perhaps human vanity does not allow the concept of our being dog-like in relationship to God.  Dogs are not exactly known for fidelity in their relationships, and there is that whole sniffing each other thing to get past...

But I am happy to report that on a recent trip to the excellent Gallo-roman-museum in Lyon I found out about a rather nice roman god who did in fact have a dog as his associate/follower/side kick.  Meet Sucellus:

In addition to a dog at his side, the attributes of Sucellus are a cup in his hand and a rather unusual object on a stick, variously described as a keg of beer or as a hammer.  My kinda deity, malt beverage, ridiculously oversized tool and a faithful hound!  Perhaps not surprisingly Sucellus was held to be the patron god of agriculture, forests and alcoholic beverages.

Sucellus is felt to be the Gallic version of Silvanus the patron deity of forests, fields and shephards.  In the case of Silvanus the accompanying hound was probably to help keep wolves away from flocks.
Silvanus carries a cyprus tree instead of a beer keg.  Don't ask.  And as to what the dog is thinking about, don't ask that either.

But getting back to Sucellus for a moment.  In Roman times gods would often be arranged in domestic pairs.  Most of the goddess spouses seem a little less exciting than the single goddesses like Venus.  Here is Sucellus' better half, Nantosuelta
She is holding her traditional attribute, a model house, or perhaps a beehive. 

And here's the happy couple:

In this joint appearance there are subtle differences.  Although Sucellus still has his beer mug in hand, he is clearly holding a hammer instead of a beer keg on a stick.  Must be about to get to that "Honey-Do" list.  Nan is wearing a crown, and has told Sully in no uncertain terms that the smelly dog is staying outside, thank you very much....

No comments: