Forschungsarbeit: Götterboten – Zur Rolle der Vögel in der Kommunikation zwischen Gottheit und Mensch von der Vorgeschichte bis zum frühen Christentum

Götterboten –
Zur Rolle der Vögel in der Kommunikation zwischen Gottheit und Mensch von der Vorgeschichte bis zum frühen Christentum

Schriften zur Kulturgeschichte, volume 41

Hamburg , 246 pages

ISBN 978-3-8300-9157-8 (print)
ISBN 978-3-339-09157-4 (eBook)

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The fascination of birds as highflying creatures inspired people since prehistoric times to associate them with the divine sphere. They were seen as mediators between the inaccessible area of the gods and the earthbound humans – an idea that survived pagan antiquity up to early Christianity.

Thereby the communication of the divine message via the birds and human mediators to the people proved as an important constant over the centuries. Vice versa humans were able to use this channel to get in contact with the gods. In this case the sacrifice was normally the starting point. Attracted by the offerings on the altar the birds appeared to feast on them. It seems likely that people explained this behavior with the acceptance of the offer by the deity.

Despite the increasing competition with the burnt offering, where the rising smoke took the role of the birds, their participation at the sacrifice survived until roman imperial times. From the simple beginnings grew an increasing specialization and ritualization.

The same natural behavior that led to the participation of birds in sacrifices was used since prehistoric times until today for the ‘sky burials’. There the deceased were left in the open and devoured by birds of prey. Similar to the sacrificial context one could imagine that they took the beloved dead up to the gods. It is remarkable that also in the burial context the fire replaced the birds.

When with the triumph of Christianity the sacrifice was abolished, this possibility to contact the deity was put to an end. The principle of ‘do ut des’ that had determined the relationship of gods and men in the ancient religions did not survive in Christianity. Thus also the ritual role of the birds was restricted. Whereas eagle, raven and other species in former times interceded bilateral between gods and men the dove representing the Holy Spirit now just delivered the divine message one-way. While for men the possibility vanished to use birds in order to contact the deity.

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