Friday, November 13, 2009

Gryphons! Creatures From The Imaginal World?

The creation and sustaining of authority was also a great factor of behavior around these ancient bone discoveries. If one possessed a sacred object one also possessed its power. This authority could even be acquired by cities. Because possession of a hero's body conferred a right to the land it came from, cities all over ancient Greece became very focused on acquiring the bones of heroes from rival cities. This could legititimize one city's dominance over another, and led to a frenzy of unnearthing dinosaur's bones all over Greece in the 7th to 5th centuries BC.

Authority is meaningless unless others know that you possess it. It became quite important to display these bones to the public. The collections grew apace with the passion for collecting bones of the "heroes." Not only bones, but such objects as Medusa's hair, pickled mermen, and the egg Leda laid after her encounter with Zeus which occurred after he had been turned into a swan!

Gryphon claws and eggs were in these collections too and some were still on display in the Middle Ages. That these completely misunderstood bones should have held such importance to the ancient Greeks and Romans shouldn't probably be much of a surprise.

In much later years the Habsburg dynasty and their remains were treated rather "specially" too. In 1618 the church of the Capuchins in Vienna, a 'new' order renowned for an asceticism and evangelizing fervor, was selected as the last resting-place for the bodies of the Habsburgs. However, their viscera and hearts were placed in silver caskets, rather like the Canopic jars of the Pharaohs, and presented to the church of the Augustinian order, where they were kept like Phillip II's relics, in rows behind the high altar. The entrails, the seat of the emotions, were the right of the Cathedral of St. Stephen's, where they were received with due reverence in their silver caskets. There is something in human nature which makes people want to venerate the bones (and other body parts) of mythical (or imaginal) creatures, religious saints and royalty.

Not everyone believed in the truth of what these bones were said to represent. The more orthodox scholars, such as Thucydides and Aristotle, seem to have ignored the subject completely. They-like other men of learning were already sure that the myths associated with such difficult to clarify bones (and the supposed creatures who left them) were false. Others were not so sure. We know now, of course, that the bones were not those of actual gryphons. However, could they have existed on another level of reality alongside us? Daimonic creatures seem to exist along some sort of spectrum, some appearing at the personal level; others at the impersonal level.

From Patrick Harpur's Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld: "The most stiking of these apparitions come in animal form, notable bird-like creatures, black dogs and cats, lake monsters, and "big hairy monsters...Already these suggest an affinity with a certain element or type of landscape as the Neoplatonists noticed. Olympiodorus, for example, remarked that daimons can be celestial, ethereal, aerial, or subterranean. (He adds, for the benefit of ufologists, that "irrational daimons originate from the aerial governors...") My emphasis added.

I should have about one or two more articles to go for the "gryphon" part of this series. After that, I would like to keep going with looking at other mythical (or not so mythical) creatures and some other things in between. Thanks for your intelligent and thoughtful comments! All the best to anyone stopping by!


foam said...

you know .. i was mostly familiar with gryphons
from heraldy.
i just read the past three posts .... :)
it's interesting. i love beasties in mythology.

Devin said...

foam-thanks so much for stopping by!! I am just starting to appreciate mythology more than I ever have -I know little of the subject on a general basis-
I have of course been intrigued by creatures that are said to be misidentifications, myth, urban legends for a long time so there is kind of a tie-in there
Heraldry is a fascinating subject itself and I have some images where gryphons were used in these and hope to post them
I want to keep going with creatures/beasts from mythology for awhile but may need to play catch up after the gryphon part is done-best to you as always my friend!!

Autumnforest said...

Hey Dev;
Great post, of course! I remember hearing once that they would find dinosaur bones and use those as proof of mythical creatures and parade them around. They assumed all animals they saw were all there ever were, so any odd ones were signs of mythical creatures. Look how long it took us to figure out what the Archimedes gears were. My new obsession is Minotaur--if you do more, do that one, please! I heard a labyrinth was even found in Crete that might be where the myth began--shivers!

Michael said...

The veneration of relics is still going strong, with the bones and lockets of saints and Jesus still selling well, so a very interesting post. Heres a pic (NSFW) from the Slab that reminded me of those big footed fellows who can block the sun...

Thanks again for such a thought provoking thread, and thanks for the comments at gosporn, much appreciated! All the best to you,


Devin said...

Wow Autumnforest that is so cool (and a bit scary) about the labyrinth-I will definitely have to look up that one -and thanks as always for your great comments and great blog!! I will definitely get to the Minotaur-in fact if I will put it on the list right after the next one -all the best to you my friend and thanks for stopping by!!and have a great weekend!!

Michael thanks as always for your great comments and taking the time to stop by!! I will definitely go to the link you gave and you are welcome for the comments -haha i don't know how much i add as everyone seems one or two steps ahead of me-but I also enjoy your blog so much (and the eye-candy;-) best to you and Varen as always too and I hope you have a great weekend!!