11. Serving the dark side


Tantalos is linked to Lydia and Lesbos, Paphlagonia and Phrygia, from where he is expelled because he seduced Ganymedes. His name is the wellknown reiteration of a stem used in the naming of several gods who are closely connected to the sacred world-pillar: Atlas[1] and Talos, the copper-colossus with the single, long vein going from head to heal. (An early version of the channel through which the kundalini-power moves up and down, in India called the shushumna-channel). Reiteration is common to some old Anatolian languages: Paphlagonia, Sea of Marmaros, Daedalos. The stem could perhaps be linked to the Semitic word Tell = “mountain”.  In Greek myth his name is linked to an attempt to steal the food of the gods, ambrosia and nectar. Tantalos was the son and close friend of Zeus and had access to the table of the gods, but tried to reveal the secrets of Zeus to man and give him part in the food of immortality. Therefore in the nether world he is doomed to stand burning with thirst in a rushing river, but each time he will bend and drink, the river will sink. Over him there are beautiful fruits hanging from low branches, but each time he will stretch out for them, they will move out of his reach. The combination of river and tree with fruits shows that it is the tree of life and the river of life Tantalos is chained to without ever being able to get hold of their blessings.

One of the most important results of modern religiohistorical research[2] is the growing understanding of the nature of the West Semitic marzeah, the cultic association, often of twelve members meeting to have a holy meal, and this meal being a drinking together with the invisible gods or deceased souls. (The ilim. It is a feast in the assembly of the gods). It is during such a feast, the evil god Seth and his 70 followers (the number shows that it is the assembly of the sons of god) try to kill Osiris. But also the titans (note the reiteration) who are both demons and humans with their faces smeared with gypsum to look like ghosts is such an assembly of dead and living when they cut the child Zagreus into pieces. Even El Cronos is followed by an assembly of “gods” (eloim) when he kills his father, the highgod,  “heaven” Uranos (acc to Philo of Byblos). And El in Ugarit is hunted down and killed by Baal during a marzeah held among the gods.

Now the myth tells us that Tantalos invited the gods to a meal on the mountain Sipylos (the typical marzeah, where also gods are invited), but at this meal he served his own son Pelops cooked in a cauldron. But the gods saw what kind of meal this was and put the meat back, except Demeter who so grieved for her lost daughter that she did not notice the kind of food she was eating. As a matter of fact, both Tantalos and Demeter are typical Minoan gods.  Male divinities are rare in Minoan iconography. But there is a seal showing a male with a stick or pole descending through the air in front of a large pillar with a pillar-shrine further behind. The female in front of him is considered to be saluting or adoring him[3]. He is the God of the world-pillar descending to the pillar-shrine and carrying his symbol in his hand. We will see later that Apollo is such a god of the world navel and pillar. The same goes for El Cronos in Byblos. His most common feature is the two poles he carries in his hands (as we shall see later). Survivals of the great Minoan snake goddess is Circe, Medea and in her more awe-inspiring aspect, Gorgo and Medusa. Circe with her pigs is an avatar of Demeter and both Demeter and Medea fly in a snake-drawn chariot. Circe/Gorgo must have some connection to the Sumerian kurkura: the central mountain, cf the Lydian goddess Omphale (“navel”). P.Warren[4] has found several hundred children´s bones, most of them belonging to children probably under 11 years of age, every third or fourth bone exhibited fine knife marks, exactly comparable to butchery marks on animal bones, resulting from the removal of meat. Cannibalism seems clearly indicated. Subsequent analysis has shown that the bones in fact need belong to no more than four individuals. Some finger or toe bones from young humans and a human vertebra with a knife cut were also found together with shells of eatable snails and some marine shells in a jar suggesting that they had been cooked together in a common dish[5]. This lecture from Dartmouth College also mentions a Minoan temple from the northern slopes of Mt. Iuktas suddenly destroyed by earthquake. Among the victims buried in the ruins was also a skeleton of a young man bent in a position as if he was tied up in the same way as a young cow to be sacrificed. In fact the colour of his bones (those on his upper/left side being white, those on his lower/right side being black) suggests that the youth had died from a loss of blood. A sacrificial knife was found among his bones. On each side of it was incised the frontal head of a boar. It seems certain that the highgod who was sacrificed could be represented both by a bull and a boy. This is why Philo of Byblos calls the boy sacrificed in Phoenician religion Monogenes and “Jeud”[6]. He is the symbol of primordial union before the splitting up into duality.

Pelops´s mother was seeking her son[7] but she got the message from the kitchen-servant that the gods had eaten him to the last bite. This is also what happens on a human level, but on the spiritual level it is seen as an initiation to a life as a god closely linked to the highgod, the bull, which through every death and rendering asunder by wild animals is born again renewed as the divine calf. Also Medea's renewing Jason's father by cutting him up and boiling him is a re-enactment of this the oldest and most important myth of the old Inner Anatolian religion. The initiate is renewed in the same way as the god of light and life. In Firmicus Mat. de err. prof. rel. 8 the sun says that it is killed and either cooked in a bowl (olla) or roasted on seven spits. Acc. to Kerenyi[8] the “cup” used by the sun to cross the sea of Oceanos is symbolic identical with the bowl used by Medea to renew human beings.

Tantalos also had a son who was just as ugly as Pelops was beautiful. He carved the first picture of the “Mother of the Gods” and was a great hunter, but went mad, and with the loud cry that no flame could hurt him, he flung himself on a bonfire and was burned to death. We have here a whole circle of myths connected to Tantalos, precious survivals of the old Anatolian cult of Sandan, closely tied to the myths around Omphale, the queen of Lydia and acc to some sources married to Tantalos´s father. Broteas, the ugly one, is the great hunter Sandan, god of ecstasy, finally burned on the pyre of Sandan, so often seen on coins from Hellenistic times. We meet the old prehistoric tradition about the two sons, the calf, and the leopard (Broteas means the blood-stained), the good and the evil  (here the pretty and the ugly).

M.Marimatos[9] and A.Lebessi[10] have drawn our attention to some Minoan survivals in Cretan cult. The priest was seen as a hunter, and the sacrifice was seen as a hunting down of the animal[11]. In the temple the young men were trained in hunting by older tutors who also functioned as their lovers – all this as a preparation for initiation into manhood. The griffon attacking the stag is a symbol of sacrifice, which can be seen from the sacrificial table under the scene of killing.[12]



J.E. Fontenrose[13] has argued that Pyrrhos (another name for Neoptolemos) because of the verbal correspondence with Pyrrha, the name of the wife of Deukalion has to be equated with Deukalion, who survived the great Flood and with his wife repopulated the earth acc. to a Greek version of the myth. The name Pyrrhos/Pyrres means “red”, he is the fiery hunter whose androgynous nature calls for both a Pyrrhos and a Pyrrha.

The flood of Deukalion was commemorated each year at a Delphian festival called Aigle at the same time as the Athenian Anthesteria festival, the last day of which was devoted to commemorating the victims of the great Flood. To my mind we have here the precious last traces of an old spring festival celebrating and securing the balance between water and heat, flooding and fire.

D.E.Gershenson, Apollo the Wolf-god, 1991 has dealt with the epithet of this god: Lykeios (lykos = wolf) and Lykoreia “the wolf-town” founded by Deukalion next to the oracle in Delphi. He has rightly stressed the origin in the Indo-European institution of the young wolf-warrior: Apollo is the leader of the ephebes, the young warriors who almost without weapons have to defend the borders, and Gershenson draws heavily on O.Höfler, Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen, 1934 with a full translation of Höfler´s Appendix on the trial of old Thies in 1691, witnessing a survival in Latvian folk religion of the “werewolf” institution. But he also pays due respect to S.Wikander, who has suggested a connection between the Roman god Mars and the Indian companions of Rudra/Shiwa, the Maruts, and the mairya of the Zoroastrian sources, who are called “two-footed wolves, worse than the four footed kind”. All three come from the Indo-European root *marjo, “member of a cultic confraternity”.

He even mentions G.Widengren's comment on the Sakâ haomavargâ of the Darius reliefs, acc to Widengren to be translated: “haoma/soma drinking wolves”. And he quotes Aesch., Septem 145f.: “Lykeios, lord, be wolfish toward the enemy´s army” (p.16).

But Gershenson has not seen that into this Indo-European heritage is mixed the even older symbolism of the panther or lion killing the bull. But because of the lion and leopard never being seen in the Greek landscape, the wolf has taken over its role: In front of the old Apollo temple in Argos stood a relief, acc. to Pausanias showing a wolf and an ox battling with a woman  (Artemis) trying to help the wolf by throwing a rock at the ox. The myth of the founding of the temple is related by Servius[14]: Danaos has sent his daughter to look for water. She comes back with the report of a river gushing forth, but flowing only a short way before it disappears into a sinkhole in the ground. When the father came to view the wonder, Apollo appeared to him and told him he would see a wolf battling with a bull at the place: should the bull be victorious, he must build a temple for Poseidon, but if the wolf killed the bull, he had to dedicate the temple to Apollo Lykeios, wolf-Apollo.

From this it is clearly seen that the bull is the symbol of water: inside the temple burned an undying fire. Acc. to Paus. 2,19,4 and Plutarch Pyrrhus 32,9 an artificial pit was dug in front of the temple, perhaps a cultic picture of the sinkhole playing such an important part in the myth of the founding of the temple. The sinkhole is in fact doing exactly the same thing as the wolf, killing the symbol of the moisture of life. Once again we have the old tradition of the flood being balanced or stopped by the god of fire.

The Homeric word lýssa seems to mean “wolfish rage”. When lyssa has taken hold of Hector he is described as having no regard for gods or for men[15]. Hector is the hunter, his name being identical with Actaeon, Aqhat.

Ch.Clermont Gannau[16] brings this inscription from the Hauran area:



“For the salvation of the emperor Trajan, etc. ... Mennéas, son of Beeliabos, son of Beeliabos, father to Neteíros, who was made divine in the cauldron, by which the feasts were celebrated, Supervisor of all the works completed there, dedicated this in piety to the goddess Leucothea from Segeira.”


Not all scholars take this inscription as a proof of the sacrifice of a child. Why would this high-ranking official dare to praise himself for an act of this kind, when this very act was an abomination to every Roman? The latest attempt to interpret this important inscription ends up in a theory that the poor boy fell into the cauldron by accident - the phrase “made divine” could also stand for other accidents like death by a stroke of lightening. But if it was an accident, why mention it at all in this solemn inscription, where the piety of the donator is stressed? Clermont-Gannau gives enough examples to prove that human sacrifices were in fact practised even till Christian and Islamic time. The cooking of a child in a cauldron is also known from the cult of the Sabiens in Harran[17]. Acc. to Ovid, poor Leucothea was buried alive by her father Orchamos, king of Persia but by “The Sun”, her lover, she was changed into an incense tree.[18] This myth is a variation of the myth of Myrrha, and “incense”. Greek: Libanos comes form the Semitic root lbn = “white”. Therefore the goddess of the incense trees could be translated into Greek Leucothea = “white goddess”.

Leucothea was honoured on Tenedos, the island at the entrance to the Black Sea, together with her son Melicertes, who had the epithet “killer of babies” (Lycofron 229). Note also that Leucothea demands that Frixos be brought as a sacrifice, but he escapes to the land of the sun on a golden ram (apotheosis). Also “Pelops emerged from the magic cauldron clothed in such radiant beauty that Poseidon fell in love with him on the spot and carried him off to Olympos in a chariot drawn by golden horses. There he appointed him his cup-bearer and bed-fellow, as Zeus later appointed Ganymedes, and fed him on ambrosia”[19]. We shall later, both in the Odyssey and in the Argonautica and in Hellenistic novels, meet further examples of this apotheosis or initiation in the cauldron.

Clermont-Gannau mentions that Satan among the Moslems was called Abu Loubaina. (= “L.´s father”). Whatever god is hiding behind Orchamos, he is not a kind one.

Some scholars think that the sacrifice to Molok mentioned in the Bible was a sacrifice to an early JHVH, but J.A.Montgomery[20] proves that Zion is seen as the paradise-mountain, and by the foot of the paradise mountain was also the entrance to the realm of the dead souls, in Jerusalem localised to Gehinnom, i.e. the ”valley of Hinnom”, the deep valley south of J. The role Gehinnom plays in the teaching of Jesus must be seen as part of the Zion-symbolism: there is survival from death on the paradise mountain, the rock, see Matt 16,17-19, where the rock is contrasted with the realm of death, which cannot conquer it, cf. Matt 7,24f. J.B.Curtis[21] tries to prove that the child sacrifices to Molok in Hinnom's valley condemned by the prophets was a kind of devil´s cult, honouring Nergal-Irra, the prince of darkness. This is why the Mount of Olives is called the ”Mountain of destruction”, 2.King 23,13 cf. Exod 12,23 where the “Destroyer” claims the firstborn.

But is it realistic to imagine that the dark side was served in this way? Such a cult was in fact the cult of the leopard-god from Inner Anatolia. A unique witness to this cult is the rock temple of Yazilikaya[22]. Behind the temple facade the mountain opens up into different rooms and narrow passages. There is a kind of inner courtyard (a), and a narrow passage into what was obviously a secret place (b). In chamber a the rock walls show a long procession of male gods headed by Teshub meeting a procession of female gods headed by Hebat. Teshub stands on the cleaved world mountain and he is followed by an animal which carries the inscription: “Bull calf of Teshub”. Hepat is standing on a lion, and behind her a god carrying a double axe in his left hand and standing on a lion he has tamed and put a collar on. But why is he standing in the procession of the female gods? Behind Teshub there is a god with a bull in his tiara and with the long straight staff characteristic of Zeus and other older gods.  We are here reminded of the gods of Catal Hüyük, the bull and the young calf, and the goddess and her young son riding the leopard. The calf is the son of the father, the leopard-rider is the son of the mother.



But let us proceed to the secret chamber: The entrance here is guarded by two lion demons obviously put there to create awe and fear in the heart of he who dares to enter. Inside we are confronted with Sharruma, who puts his arm around the king for protection, and a god, who is really a giant knife thrust into the ground. The handle of this knife is made of lions. Both in chambers a and b there is a procession of 12 gods all armed with sickle swords. In the Hittite texts about the fight over the “Kingdom of Heaven” is mentioned “the gods of primeval time”, also called the “nether gods”, whose home is the “black earth”. These 12 are also sometimes mentioned together with “the blody Nergal”, prince of the underworld. His presence is symbolised by the giant killing instrument in “the holiest of the holy”. H.G.Güterbock mentions a male Ishtar, whose idol is described in a Hittite text: standing on a lion-griffin he holds an axe in his hand. On his shoulders he has wings, and to the left and to the right are Ninatta and Kulitta, the two divine prostitutes, who in Yazilikaya follow just after the young man on the lion in the female procession. He must be an androgynous god. Another important text mentioned by Güterbock is also a description of an idol: the god Shulikatte is standing on a lion, in his right hand a sword, in his left the head of a man chopped off.



A third important text is about a magic extinction of different “burning” apparitions: the “bloody Nergal”, and by the “cross road” “the twelve gods”[23]. It should be noted that all these infernal gods are closely tied to the element of fire.

H.Mode[24] has compared the knife inside the temple with the Tibetan demon P´ur-bu pictured below. As a matter of fact, this product of the left- hand tantra is a distant relative of the prehistoric civilisations expanding from Inner Anatolia.[25]


[1] with a-intensivum as praefix A.B.Cook, Zeus III, p.417

[2] J.Milik, Marvin Pope, Barstad

[3] Nilsson, 1950, pl.13, 4

[4] “Minoan Crete and ecstatic religion”, in: Sanctuaries and Cults in the Aegean Bronze Age, 1981, ed. R.Hägg & N.Marinatos, pp.159ff.

[5] devlab.cs.dartmouth.edu/history/bronze_age/lessons/15.html

[6] I, 10, 33f, 40, from Semitic jhd = “one”, “unity”

[7] For more on the seeking of the mother goddess for her lost son or lover, see my article “Salvanda et Pastor Bonus” in: Dialogue in Action, Essays in honour of Johannes Aagaard

[8] Eranos Jahrbuch X, 1943

[9] Minoan sacrificial ritual, 1986, pp.42-72

[10] Kato Syme I, 1, 1985, pp.108ff.

[11] a category of sacrifices in Ugarit was called msd “hunting-game” KTU 1,14

[12] Marinatos: “Hunting and Sacrifice” in: R.Hägg, Marinatos & Nordquist, Early Greek Cult Practice, 1988, pp.16-19

[13] The Cult and Myth of Pyrros at Delphi, 1960

[14] ad Aen 4.37,Gershenson p.5

[15] Iliad.9, 237ff., Gershenson, p.125

[16] Recueil d´Archéologie Orientale, II, 1897, “L´apothéose de Neteiros”, pp.74f.

[17] Chwolson, Die Ssabier II, pp.142ff. quoted from Fihrist

[18] Met. IV, 208ff.

[19] R.Graves, The Greek Myths 2, 2nd ed.1960, p.27

[20] “The holy city and Gehenna”, JBL 27,1908

[21] “The Mount of Olives in the Tradition”, HUCA 28,1957, pp.137ff.

[22] Das  hethitische Felsheiligtum Yazilikaya, K.Bittel et al.,1975

[23] Güterbock, Das Felsheiligtum, pp.189-92

[24] Fabeltiere und Dämonen in der Kunst, 2.ed., 1983, pp.209f.

[25] See also S.Hummel, “Der lamaistische Ritualdolch (Phur-bu) und die alt-vorderorientalische Nagelmenschen”, Asiatische Studien, 1952, 4, pp.41ff.