Chthonic  

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Chthonic (from Greek χθόνιοςchthonios, "in, under, or beneath the earth", from χθώνchthōn "earth"; pertaining to the Earth; earthy; subterranean) designates, or pertains to, deities or spirits of the underworld, especially in relation to Greek religion.

Greek khthon is one of several words for "earth"; it typically refers to the interior of the soil, rather than the living surface of the land (as Gaia or Ge does) or the land as territory (as khora (χώρα) does). It evokes at once abundance and the grave.

The pronunciation is somewhat awkward for English speakers. Most dictionaries, such as the OED, state that the first two letters should be pronounced as [k]; others, such as the AHD, record these letters as silent.

In her work Sexual Personae, cultural critic Camille Paglia links femininity with the chthonic realm of earthy Dionysianism, see Apollonian and Dionysian in Sexual Personae.

Contents

Chthonic and Olympian

While terms such as "Earth deity" have rather sweeping implications in English, the words khthonie and khthonios had a more precise and technical meaning in Greek, referring primarily to the manner of offering sacrifices to the deity in question.

Some chthonic cults practised ritual sacrifice, which often happened at night time. When the sacrifice was a living creature, the animal was placed in a bothros ("pit") or megaron ("sunken chamber"). In some Greek chthonic cults, the animal was sacrificed on a raised bomos ("altar"). Offerings usually were burned whole or buried rather than being cooked and shared among the worshippers.

Not all chthonic cults were Greek, nor did all cults practice ritual sacrifice; some performed sacrifices in effigy or burnt vegetable offerings.

Cult type versus function

While chthonic deities had a general association with fertility, they did not have a monopoly on it, nor were the later Olympian deities wholly unconcerned for the Earth's prosperity. Thus Demeter and Persephone both watched over aspects of the fertility of land, yet Demeter had a typically Olympian cult while Persephone had a chthonic one.

Even more confusing, Demeter was worshipped alongside Persephone with identical rites, and yet occasionally was classified as an "Olympian" in late poetry and myth. The absorption of some earlier cults into the newer pantheon versus those that resisted being absorbed is suggested as providing the later myths that seem confusing.

In between

The categories Olympian and chthonic weren't, however, completely separate. Some Olympian deities, such as Hermes and Zeus, also received chthonic sacrifices and tithes in certain locations. The deified heroes Heracles and Asclepius might be worshipped as gods or chthonic heroes, depending on the site and the time of origin of the myth.

Moreover, a few deities aren't easily classifiable under these terms. Hecate, for instance, was typically offered puppies at crossroads — not an Olympian type of sacrifice, to be sure, but not a typical offering to Persephone nor the heroes, either. Because of her underworld roles,he beast Hecate is generally classed as chthonic.

References in psychology and anthropology

In analytical psychology, the term chthonic was often used to describe the spirit of nature within, the unconscious earthly impulses of the Self, one's material depths, but not necessarily with negative connotations. See anima and animus or shadow. In Man and His Symbols Carl G. Jung explains:

"Envy, lust, sensuality, deceit, and all known vices are the negative, 'dark' aspect of the unconscious, which can manifest itself in two ways. In the positive sense, it appears as a 'spirit of nature', creatively animating Man, things, and the world. It is the 'chthonic spirit' that has been mentioned so often in this chapter. In the negative sense, the unconscious (that same spirit) manifests itself as a spirit of evil, as a drive to destroy."

Gender has a specific meaning in cultural anthropology. Teresa del Valle in her book Gendered Anthropology explains "there are male and female deities at every level. We generally find men associated with the above, the sky, and women associated with the below, with the earth, water of the underground, and the chthonic deities."

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Chthonic" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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