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Why we should read... 'The Armenian Pantheon' by Professor Levon Katcheryan 284pp, USA, 2001 A History of Armenian Pagan Deities Armenian News Network / Groong May 29, 2004 By Eddie Arnavoudian Professor Levon Khatcheryan's 'The Armenian National Pantheon', a comprehensive history of the major pre-Christian Armenian pagan deities, fills a gap. Examining the religious institutions, organisations, temples, ceremonial traditions and rituals that developed around Armenian pagan gods, he shows them forming a broad and complex cultural, ideological and political foundation for Armenian society. That the Armenian pantheon set deep and perhaps indelible roots in Armenian life is testified to by the stubbornness with which paganism survived well into the second century of Armenian Christianity and subsequently as it continued to influence Armenian literature, popular mythology and culture well into the 19th century. To produce this highly readable and instructive work Khatcheryan had to overcome a terrible scarcity of original sources, most of these being destroyed by the victorious Christian Church in the 4th century and thereafter. He leaps the abyss of historical ignorance through a meticulous scrutiny of the hostile and possibly falsified references to pagan gods that are recorded in classical Armenian Christian literature and complements this by intelligent and imaginative insight and supposition suggested by studies of non-Armenian pagan gods, by C. M. Bowra in particular. While Armenians, like many other peoples, adopted Assyrian, Greek, Persian and other gods either voluntarily or under duress through the centuries, they were refined, pruned, adjusted and Armenianized so much so that they sometimes have little resemblance to their original. Thus appropriated and remoulded, these naturalised deities went on to play a crucial role in the ideological and intellectual definition of the Armenian state as against their Persian, Greek, Assyrian and other neighbours. Like its Christian successors, the pagan church commanded a leading social, intellectual and cultural position in society, a position founded on its vast economic wealth and landholding that included slaves and serfs. Spread across the land, its temples in honour of the nine main gods were also centres of learning harbouring both the existing stock of knowledge as well as the wise men of the day. They were in addition social centres and gathering points for travellers, traders and soldiers. The highly structured and elaborate Armenian pantheon had at its centre nine deities, each serving a particular sphere of social life. Armenian gods, like those of the Greeks, had human form, suggesting a level of social and intellectual development in which human consciousness, having mastered some of the secrets of nature, had ceased to attribute magical or godly powers to inanimate elements of nature. The Father of all Armenian Gods was Aramazd but perhaps the most famous and popular was his daughter Anahit. Both were foreign importations, but centuries of history refashioned and enhanced them to suit local need and so they acquired a very specific, particular Armenian character. Unfortunately the lack of sources leaves us only a dry and formal picture for Aramazd, who possesses all the attributes of a supreme deity. He is the creator of heaven and earth, the god of hope and success and the supreme legislator and distributor of justice. He was not just the first among equals but an almost omnipotent power so unlike the Persian pantheon, where two antagonistic supreme gods, one evil and one virtuous, exist in perpetual conflict. Alas there is in the records left of Aramazd none of the adventure, heroism, romance and poetry that lend the Greek or Roman gods their magical magnificence. Aramazd may have been supreme but his popularity was dimmed by that of his daughter the Goddess Anahit, a popularity attested to by Roman historians as well as Armenians and by the record of at least ten temples containing her statues. Her popularity was such that the leaders of Armenian Christianity in a gesture of compromise to entice a doubting population built their Christian Churches on the destroyed foundations of Anahit's temples and named these after a similar female god like figure, the Virgin Mary. Besides possessing many of her father's attributes, Anahit was also the guardian of Armenia's state security, worshiped for her powers to endow military strength and courage. She was also the guarantor of happiness and a bountiful life for the state and the people. Elements of her status as a Goddess of Fertility survived in popular rituals right up to the 19th century, being adopted even by Turkish women hoping for pregnancy. Besides Anahit, Aramazd had a son, Vahagn the god of storms, wind and rain who, deploying lighting and storms, came to symbolise struggle, war and victory. One of his functions was to battle against demons that attempted to divert the fertilising flow of heavenly water away from the needy earth. A particularly fascinating and indeed exciting element of Khatcheryan's account is the survival of pagan traditions, stories and influences through the early Christian period right up to the 19th century. Mihr, the Armenian God of Truth and Light, for example, appears as late as the 8th century when the epic of David of Sassoon was first fashioned in the Armenian resistance to Arab imperial rule. Dir the pagan Armenian God of Wisdom, Education and Knowledge survives in the Armenian term Diratzoo to denote a schoolmaster. A scribe, Dir had as one of his tasks the cataloguing of all those condemned to the afterlife. This role has given rise to the Armenian curse 'groghe dani' (let the scribe dispense with him). In the case of Asdghig, goddess of love, of passion and eroticism numerous sites, hills, mountains and villages retained her name for centuries beyond the pagan era. Her enduring popularity also forced the Church to adopt, albeit suitably adjusted, a water festival in her honour. Vanadoor, the god of hospitality, is another whose traditions have endured into Christianity and beyond with the celebration and feasting known as 'baregentan'. Attempting a relatively comprehensive picture, Khatcheryan ends his book with a glance at deities that have little or no record in the 5th century Armenian classics. Among them are Kissane and Temedre two gods of Indian origin and one Santached the god of the underworld. Despite a limitation in its focus on the ideological and cultural level with insufficient consideration of the political, social or economic factors that contributed to the evolution and development of Armenian paganism, this volume is a wonderful read. It is also well produced, with good quality paper, though its cover is a touch gaudy with its glossy gold. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.