Sky and Sky Gods
SKY AND SKY GODS
In all ages and in all religions the sky was regarded as a symbol and manifestation of the divine (cf. the distinction between sky and heaven). Knowledge of the mythology, Weltanschauung, social order, and environment is of fundamental importance for understanding the function of heaven and the gods of heaven. Three types of function are distinguished, which often overlap.
Heaven is conceived as the symbol and name of the Supreme Being. This is the case among the Chinese (Tien ), Mongols ("by the power of the eternal Heaven," "Heaven has commanded me"), the Sumerians (An), and especially, among the inhabitants of the Afro-Asiatic steppes and the herding peoples. The Indo-European languages employ the terms Devah, Dyaus, Die, Tivar, Zeus, Deus, Diespiter, and Jupiter to designate the creator and lord of all things. Side by side with the active worship of the Supreme God of Heaven there is a tendency to make him a Deus otiosus (as in Africa) and to concentrate on the active worship of other religious phenomena that seem to be closer and to play a more central role in daily life.
Heaven is viewed as the realm (often arranged in tiers) or dwelling place of the Supreme Being and of other supraterrestrial powers or of the dead. Heaven is the place of sacred action. Its gradation and the composition of its inhabitants are often based on the syncretistic merging of the individual gods of conquered or foreign peoples: in Egypt, Hathor, Maut, Nut, Neith, and Isis; among the Aztecs, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli. Among the Pygmies, their god Epilipili lives in the sky because men were unworthy of him. The Iroquois
relate that the daughter of their Celestial Chief fell through a hole in the sky to the earth and became the mother of their culture-heroes. The shamans visit the celestial realms.
Heaven is thought of also as a cosmic world-principle. The union of heaven (mostly masculine) and earth (always feminine) determines, for example, the Taoistic world order (Ying-Yang ). In Polynesia, through this union (Rangi-Pépé ) the world is born. Both are fertility principles (as is clear from the rock pictures of the Yoruba in West Africa). The visible heaven is a representative of the divine. Accordingly, the natural phenomena connected with it are frequently the symbols or hypostases of divinity. Among the Haida Indians, the term Sins means heaven, air, storm, and weather. The identification of heaven with rain (Jupiter pluvius ) or with thunder (among the Semang on the Malacca peninsula, the combination Ta Ped’n-Karei ) is very commonly made.
The assumption that the Supreme Being is the personification of the material heaven or sky (the view of R. Pettazzoni) runs counter to the scientific evaluation of the evidence. The phenomena mentioned above are best explained by supposing the presence of an original idea, founded in the nature of man, but variously modified and hypostatized in individual cases.
Bibliography: j. haekel, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 5:352–354. s. morenz, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 3:328–331. m. eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. r. sheed (New York 1958) 38–123, an excellent treatment with copious bibliog. g. foucart, j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 1908–27) 11:580–585. r. pettazzoni, The All-Knowing God (New York 1956). f. heiler, Die Religionen der Menschheit (Stuttgart 1959).