Now that I feel I have completed my deity pages, I’d like to write about some things I’ve noticed about each of the deities I have chosen, some trends or pattern they seem to follow at least by what seems like chance, and some things that a number of these deities have in common or each reflect in their own way, or at least most of them do.
Popularity and unpopularity
Each of the chosen deities seems to have their own history with popularity or prominence within their respective cultures. Varuna was the ruler of the heavens and the supreme deity in the early part of Vedic India, but it seems was not necessarily as popular as Indra, and he was dethroned from his position as supreme deity and became less popular, until he was eventually eclipsed by the new deities such as Shiva and Vishnu and was just not worshiped anymore, much like (ironically) the creator deity Brahma, though the original Varuna likely lives on in the Zoroastrian in the form of Ahura Mazda, who is at least treated with respect by his devotees. Astaroth, as Ishtar, was once one of the popular goddess of ancient Babylon, which makes sense given her associations with love and sex, and she even had cults outside Babylon, but with the rise of Christian monotheism she became treated as a demon, and her association with sex and the cult of sacred prostitution likely contributed to her being with particular disgust by the Christian world. In Egypt, Amun-Ra was one of the most popular deities, and the two deities who would be fused to become him, Amun and Ra, were two of Egypt’s most important deities. Amun-Ra even gained prominence as a national deity and was even considered the ultimate expression of divinity in Egypt. But over time, Amun-Ra lost the prominence he once had in Egypt, and, like Astaroth, was seen as a demon with the rise of Christianity. With Beelzebub, he was largely a way of likening the cult of Baal, which was popular in the Levant, to feces. For the Israelites, Beelzebub represented the opposite of their cult of Jehovah, and was the lord of demons, and as the Western world eventually aligned with that point of view via Christianity, Beelzebub became the Devil, or Satan, the one who we were all supposed to loathe and despise for supposedly being the source of all evil, and if he wasn’t seen as that then he was seen as a powerful demon. However, not all of my chosen deities were once popular but then became unpopular. For Shiva, the opposite is true. Shiva started out as Rudra, and in Vedic times Rudra was a deity who was worshiped primarily out of fear rather than devotion because he was seen as very terrifying deity, but he eventually gained more benign and even universalistic connontations as Shiva, grew more and more popular and to this day he is one of the most beloved deities in Hinduism and one of the most recognized deities in general. Ashura started out as Asura, and Asura in Vedic times used to be an abstract concept referring to power, strength, or might, then became a term for demons or hostile beings in the Hinduism we know, then became a term for jealous and wrathful demigods in Buddhism, but in Japan he became Ashura, a protector of the Buddhist faith, and was treated with some positive status and even got a famous statue at Kofuku-ji in Nara.
A crowd of people paying homage to Ganesha, one of the new deities who eclipsed the Vedic deities of India.
Violence and war
Although Ashura is supposed to be the war deity in this configuration, more deities than just him have been associated with war or violence. In ancient Babylon, Astaroth/Ishtar was not just as goddess of love and sex, but also war, and war itself was even referred to as the “dance of Ishtar”. Shiva, as Rudra, used to be a violent deity himself, and he was feared as being unpredictable and even malevolent. Even in his current incarnation, Shiva himself is chiefly associated with destruction, and can assume wrathful forms such as Bhairava and Mahakala. Amun-Ra was not himself a deity that was specifically violent or had a violent history on his own, but Ra, one of the deities that became him, was capable of manifesting violent power in the form of a separate entity in order to exact whatever wrathful or vengeful desires he felt. In addition, the ram in Egypt was venerated in matters of warfare as well as fertility. Rather fitting for the astrological ram Aries who is associated with Mars, the planet associated with and named for a deity of war. However, Beelzebub isn’t explicitly warlike, despite his association with the likes of Baal/Hadad and Set, and Varuna has nothing to do with warfare or violence at all, though has had some association with death.
An image of Kala Bhairava in Nepal
It seems all of my chosen deities have had some history with demons, or with being demons. Beelzebub is the ruler of the demons and a powerful demon himself. Astaroth is a goddess with demonic attributes, or more or less a demon who was once a goddess. Shiva himself was sometimes said to have a horde of spirits called Ganas, or Bhutaganas, sometimes identified as demons. In Iran, Rudra/Shiva was seen as a demon, or rather daeva, named Sarva. Varuna was an asura, in fact he was called Father Asura, but towards the end of the Vedic period the asuras had become treated as demons, and although Varuna was now said to be an asura who left the side of the asuras to join the devas, he was viewed as having demonic or sinister qualities. Some sources say who controls or watches over the demons of the ocean. Ashura was believed to represent the asuras, the very same demons from Hindu lore, though in Buddhism though less demons than hostile demigods. Amun-Ra was never associated with demonic forces, though he would eventually be incarnated as a devil in Christian demonology, just as many of the old deities were. Ra did have Set guarding him on his journey through the underworld though, and Set would later come to be viewed as a kind of demonic deity.
The ganas (or bhuta-ganas), Shiva’s spirit hordes
Most of my chosen deities have had a distinct role in the concepts of “good” and “evil”, or of order and chaos (many cultures before Zoroastrianism and Judaism didn’t really have any sort of cosmic division between “good” and “evil”, though they often presented a division and conflict between order and chaos, and even then there was often a ), in their respective mythologies. Amun-Ra was seen as an upholder of Ma’at, the Egyptian concept of order, truth, and balance, and was praised as a lord of truth in hymns. He also represented the sun, which was believed to battle with the forces of entropy. Beelzebub, as the ruler of the demons, was seen as the lord of darkness and the source of evil in the world. Shiva, as we know him, is one of the deities associated with good and righteousness in Hinduism. In fact he’s so righteous that he refuses to destroy asuras who didn’t do anything wrong simply because they are asuras (unlike Vishnu, who always favors the devas no matter what). He does destroy asuras if they prove to be a threat, or if they insult him or his wife, but won’t destroy them simply because of them being asuras. As the king or representation of the asuras, Ashura tends to represent the anti-gods of both Hinduism and Buddhism. As I’ve previously mentioned, Varuna was once the lord of the heavens and the one who upheld , but eventually became associated with the demons or anti-gods. However, in Iran, Varuna became the inspiration for Ahura Mazda, the lord of order, truth, and all that is good. I don’t think Astaroth originally had a vital role in any kind of duality in Mesopotamian or Semitic myth, but Astaroth was once hailed as the Queen of Heaven, and later descended to the underworld. I guess that merits an association with both the forces of light and darkness? There’s also the duality of creation and destruction to consider. There’s no doubt that Amun-Ra was always considered a deity associated with creation in Egypt. Shiva is chiefly associated with destruction, but he has also been associated with creation in many circles. Shiva is even shown to prevent the untimely destruction of the world in some myths.
I’m not sure where this is from, but it looks like it’s a Babylonian relief.
Sex and fertility
Astaroth is probably the deity most associated with sex and fertility, but two other deities have their associations with sex and fertility. Amun-Ra was seen as a fertility deity, chiefly due to his association with the ram (a fertility symbol), and his association with fertility often tied him to the Egyptian phallic fertility deity Min. The ram as a fertility symbol was associated with the deities Khnum, Heryshaf, and Banebdjedet. Shiva has sometimes been associated with sexuality through the lingam, a devotional representation of Shiva meant to represent the potential and energy of the divine. While the lingam is a phallic symbol, it is traditionally connected to the potent energy residing in the cosmos while the female counterpart, the yoni, represents passive space. Traditionally, the sexual organs of the human body are symbolically used to represent the space, energy, and the totality of existence through the inseparability of male and female, rather than simply sexuality and sexual intercourse. However, one could argue this is a way of shying away from the enshrinement of sexuality itself.
Egyptian relief depicting Min, Qetesh, and Resheph.
And there you go, these are all the common threads between the chosen deities I can think of.