Changing of the Gods?

After a metaphysical theory class yesterday I went on a quick shopping trip with some friends. All I was looking for was incense, but I fell head over heels in love with this statue.

It’s Hephaistos (Hephaestus) forging thunderbolts at his anvil and it fills my heart with joy. When your patron is a Deity that’s not as popular as Aphrodite, Zeus or Apollo it’s really hard to find images of them for your altar.

It captures his proud, workman spirit perfectly. No throne, dais, swans or peacocks, Hephaistos merely pauses in his work for a moment so the image can be captured. His apron and sandals are functional rather than decorative, although boots are probably a wiser choice. In every way he is perfect. For some that’s a problem.

Hephaistos is lame, either by birth deformity or from an injury he received as he was thrown from Olympus. What is interesting about his deformity, it’s generally considered club-foot, is that it serves no purpose in the story. Achilles heel is the drama point in a saga, the Minotaur’s appearance has a purpose and so on through the myths. Appearance and ailment is a primary cause that gives thrust to the story.

Yet Hephaistos’ ailment is presented as an explanation, not as a primary dramatic point. His deformity teaches no lesson nor is the point upon which some saga hinges. While Aphrodite cannot be herself if she is not beautiful, Hephaistos is independent of his appearance. His deformity neither slows him down nor assists him. Why is this?

Blacksmiths used to employ arsenic to make bronze. As a result, lameness and skin cancer was the likely result of the trade. The lame smith archetype is found in many cultures. Hephaistos is lame not because it serves a purpose, but because he reflects the men who serve him.

Think about that. A God reflects those who serve them. The ancient Greeks wore tunics and sandals, therefore so did their Gods. What would the Gods look like today if they had evolved organically in our mythic imaginations? They would hardly be dressed in chitons, tunics or togas.

Today blacksmiths don’t go lame from long-term arsenic poisoning, and club foot is a treatable condition. These aren’t issues for those who follow Hephaistos today. I like to think he looks like a modern smith today. A farrier, a blacksmith, a steelworker, an arc-welder.

In some stories, he is married to Algaea, the youngest and most beautiful of the Graces and the daughter of the famous physician Asclepius. Surely with the advances in modern medicine Asclepius is able to heal any lameness in his son-in-law? I think so.

I think the image of Hephaistos on my altar is perfect. It fits him well and does him honor. I am so thankful for his influence in my life, and for the influence of his children by Algaea: “Eucleia (“good repute”), Eupheme (“acclaim”), Euthenia (“prosperity”) and Philophrosyne (“welcome”)”.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://krasskova.weebly.com/blog.html Galina

    “Blacksmiths used to employ arsenic to make bronze. As a result, lameness and skin cancer was the likely result of the trade.”

    I didn’t know that!

    “The lame smith archetype is found in many cultures. Hephaistos is lame not because it serves a purpose, but because he reflects the men who serve him.”

    that…that moved me to tears. Thank you, Star.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    Papa Festus is most definitely a blue-collar guy, a man of the people. His temple is one of the best preserved, presumably due to superior craftsmanship. :o)

  • Matt Gerlach

    Great article.

    My boyfriend has that same statue, it’s sitting in his studio right now. He does jewelry work, mostly in chainmaille, and is a devotee of (surprise!) Vulcan and Minerva. I never really understood the lameness of Hephaestus, it never really seemed to “gel” with who He is, but now it makes total sense. Thank you!

  • http://www.caminusvulcani.com Drake

    While I did not know about the arsenic connection to the mythology, there is another explanation for why hepheastus’ and vulcan’s lameness plays a role in their mythology.

    Those with physical deformities could not take the role of the warrior in their cultures, and so they often took roles as either Shamans or craftsmen. Because their deformity limited the ways in which they could participate in their society, it provided them with the time necessary to become masters of their craft.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius Platonicus

    I think there might be more to Hephaistos’ lameness.

    In his “Ecstacies: Deciphering the Witches Sabbath”, Carlo Ginzburg points out (in a footnote) that a connection has been proposed between the motifs of lameness, on the one hand, and so-called “monosandalism”, on the other hand.

    Monosandalism, having one foot shod and one bare, is a very common, and often mysterious, detail in a variety of myths, ranging from Jason and the Argonauts to Cinderella.

    Some sort of asymmetry is often a “mark” separating out one who has special powers. Ginzburg draws the conclusion that lameness and monosandalism, or asymmetry generally, are used to differentiate extraordinary individuals with extraordinary powers, precisely because such asymmetry deviates abruptly from the physical ideal (of symmetry).

    “Anything that modifies this image [of a symmetric body] on a literary or metaphorical plane therefore seems particularly suited to express an experience that exceeds the limits of what is human.”

    In some ways Hephaistos is a very human God, because he works with his hands in a way that is, actually, rather un-Godlike. In fact, the traditional story is that Hephaistos became lame due to a nasty fall that he took: from Heaven, the realm of the Gods, all the way down to earth, the human realm.

    But from the human perspective our ability to, literally, “create”, is our most God-like quality.

    At least for me, Hephaistos will always be the lame God, but this in no way detracts from his Godliness, although it does make this Godliness more accessible to humans, and that, really, is the point!

    Other examples of monosandalism/lameness/asymmetry: Achilles, Oedipus, Prometheus, the escape of the Plataians from the Spartan siege, etc.

  • Kerry W.

    @Apuleius Platonicus: I have one leg that’s longer than the other. I usually wear a lift in the heel of one shoe, but sometimes, when I’m just doing things around the house, I’ll put my right foot in a Croc and leave the left bare. (Hobbling around uneven hurts my back to the point of needing surgery.) Thanks for giving me another way of looking at this nuisance.

  • Greenman

    I, too, am lame. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

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  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    Drake, that is a very good point! I hadn’t thought of that!

    Apuleius, that’s fascinating. In the story of Ruth, isn’t there a bargain involving Boaz taking off one shoe while he haggled?

    You know, I was thinking about this today and it’s similar to the images of FDR. He took pains to hide his condition from the cameras and there was a big to-do over a statue of him in a wheelchair several years back.

    I should say that there is an imperfection in my Hephaistos statue which I could fix, but I decided to leave cracked. There is such a thing as something being too perfect.

  • http://wyrddesigns.etsy.com K. C. Hulsman

    I understand all too well about the difficulty in finding artwork/idols/statues/jewelry/altar items for some of the Gods and Goddesses.

    One of the things that always puzzled me, is why we have no statues to Frigga. You would THINK she’s well known enough and popular enough that she’d have them, but nope.

  • http://www.maidtoqueen.blogspot.com Laura M. LaVoie

    Thank you for this post. I have often pondered the evolution of the Gods and sometimes I do think they reveal themselves in modern ways to us.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/members/masery/ Masery

    How inspirational and full of spiritual connection for me. I appreciate this article, especially since I rediscovered Hephaistos (Hephaestus) while writing the first entry for Pagans with Disabilities. http://www.patheos.com/community/paganswithdisabilities/2010/08/14/dealing-with-grief/

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    I’m with K. C. Hulsman, there just aren’t enough Idols/statues/art of the various Gods and Goddesses. I am the proud owner of a idol of Thor I was lucky to find, but while there are some Odin and Thor statues, I’ve had no luck finding ones of Tyr, Hel, or most of the other Norse gods.

    If I had any skills at the crafting, I would make them myself. Perhaps I shall look into that.

    If anyone has links to places that sell them, make it known far and wide.

  • Thalbrook

    I’ve been searching for that statue for over a year now and have yet to find it.

  • Thalbrook

    I’ve been searching for that statue for over a year now and have yet to find it.


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