Nathan (vovat) wrote,

God's Fish

Earlier, I expressed the possibility of writing a post about the fish-god Dagon, and I suppose now is as good a time as any to do so. Yeah, I know I usually write mythology posts on Saturdays, but I don't know if I'll have access to a computer this Saturday, so I'm just taking care of it today. Anyway, simply looking at the Wikipedia entry for the deity calls into question the whole idea of his being a fish-god. The identification is supported by coins and other iconography bearing pictures of fish-men, as well as the connection between the name Dagon and the Hebrew word for fish. On the other hand, the name is also similar to the Ugaritic term for grain, and Dagon is sometimes said to have been a grain deity, credited with the introduction of the plow. The god was worshipped by several peoples, and some suspect that it was when his cult spread from Babylonia to the maritime Phoenicians and Philistines that the association between Dagon and fish began. It seems that pictures of fish-men from the time of these civilizations include humans with fish tails (like the Greek Triton and the contemporary concept of a mermaid), humans draped in fish skin (the usual portrayal of the Babylonian god Oannes), and reverse mermen with the fish part on top. The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that the Syrians often abstained from eating fish, which it links to the idea of a cult for a fish-god, but could be for a different reason.

In addition to the several fishy deities I've mentioned, there are some others who deserve notice. One is Matsya, the first incarnation of Vishnu in Hindu mythology. Matsya started out as a tiny fish, but continued to grow ever larger under the care of Satyavrata, King of the Dravidians. Once Matsya reaches gigantic size, he reveals his true identity, and tells Satyavrata to build a boat that he can use to avoid an upcoming flood. Sound familiar?

Fish are also often associated with mother goddesses, and said to be representative of the vagina. As the fish as a fertility symbol remained popular in Roman times, it's often speculated that it was later adapted by Christians into the Jesus fish. Sure, people try to claim that the fish is based on a Greek acrostic for a description of Jesus, but who doesn't love the idea that a lot of pious Christians are driving around with vaginal symbols on their car bumpers? In fact, it's so amusing that it gives me some cause to doubt its truth, although it's probably true that it was adapted from a pagan symbol. Most Christian iconography was, after all. I've also seen it suggested that the miters worn by bishops (including the Pope) are based on the icthyan headgear of the priests of the Semitic god Ea, as seen in this rather sloppy graphical comparison.

Tags: mythology, religion
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