Game of Gods:
The Temple of Man in the Age of Re-Enchantment
By Carl Teichrib
* The following is an excerpt from the first pages of chapter one.
…for the new decade is seeing a remarkable revival of interest in magic, witchcraft, alchemy, astrology and mythology which is invading even the universities and creating the suspicion that the worldview of modern science may itself have been a peculiar form of myth. – Alan Watts.
The only hope, or so it seems to me, lies in a reenchantment of the world. – Morris Berman.
An imposing goddess stood before my young family, bold and commanding, dressed in glistening gold. Around her wrists were bracelets made of delicate snakes, a hideous gorgon head was visible between her breasts, and she wore a lavishly decorated helmet with three combs. Protected by the goddess’s battle shield was an ominous looking serpent; head erect, body coiled, its tail slithered behind her feet. Against her left arm rested a spear almost as long as she was tall. In the palm of her extended right hand was a winged, figurine-like character. The room she stood in was impressive, too; ancient looking statues and sculptures lined the walls, and the high ceiling was held in place by vaulted colonnades.
It was a setting that invoked a sense of awe.
My wife and son had entered the majestic room first, immediately catching sight of the diva. Our five-year-old daughter, holding my hand, noticed her as well. How could you not? She was the center of attention, and her deadpan gaze rested on all who approached.
“Daddy,” my daughter’s voice sounded distant in the expansive space. “Why are we looking at a false god?”
There we stood, the four of us, in the grandeur of Athena’s Temple – the Parthenon – staring at a 42-foot tall, gold gilded image of the Goddess of War. No, we had not been magically transported to ancient Greece. We were in Nashville, Tennessee.
Put away the idea of needing a time machine to encounter the images of ancient, pagan deities. You can see them today.
In Chicago, the Roman goddess of grain and fertility is perched atop the Board of Trade Building. At one time, Ceres’ blank face beheld the entire city, then taller skyscrapers hemmed her in. Ceres also stands on the Missouri state capital building, and a striking statue of Nike is poised on Arizona’s capital dome. Nike, the Goddess of Victory, caps the Soldiers’ Monument in Worcester, Massachusetts, as she does at the Solders’ and Sailors’ Monument in downtown Indianapolis.
Vulcan, the Roman deity of fire and the forge, overlooks Birmingham, Alabama. Originally built to represent the state’s mineral resources for the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, it remains the largest cast iron statue in the world at 56-feet. Standing atop Red Mountain, the ridge separating Homewood from Birmingham, and perched on a stone pedestal twice its height, Vulcan has a commanding view of the University of Alabama and the city beyond.
At 92-feet, Venus – wrapping in twisting robes of silvery steel – is currently the tallest statue in San Francisco. Opened to the public in the spring of 2017, the goddess of love, sex and fertility, arises in the tucked-away courtyard of Trinity Place. In the same city you will find Minerva, the wife of Jupiter who is affiliated with war, wisdom and commerce, as she stands atop the Pioneer Monument. Minerva is featured on California’s state seal.
Stationed at Rockefeller Center, New York City, is a bronze, 18-foot high, Prometheus. In Greek mythology this Titan stole fire from Zeus and gave it to Mankind, thus becoming a symbol of human progression. Of course, the Roman goddess Libertas on Liberty Island in Upper New York Bay is world-renowned as a beacon of freedom.
A plethora of smaller, cultic images dot the American landscape.
Persephone can be found on the grounds of Butler University in Indianapolis; a colorful Sun God is perched at the University of California, San Diego; Minerva is displayed at the University of Albany; The Great God Pan rests at Columbia University, a short distance from the Alma Mater monument depicting Athena; Isis, Goddess of Life, is seated on a throne at President Herbert Hoover’s birthplace near Iowa City; and the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl is coiled in downtown San José, California.
America’s capital is awash in classical opulence. Greco-Roman themes and deity portrayals are displayed throughout Washington DC, including the nation’s homegrown goddess, Columbia. Amidst the backdrop of its daily political drama, the ancient past comes to life in the symbolic detail of the city’s monuments and sculptures, engravings, paintings, and architecture. Egyptian motifs are found too. Washington’s Monument, the largest structure in the city, was intentionally erected in the style of an Egyptian obelisk. At the time of completion in 1884 it was the tallest structure in the world.
Canada, too, has similar cultic depictions, but nothing like the volume of the United States. Toronto’s remarkable Princes’ Gates, a triumphal arch flanked by grand colonnades, is watched over by Nike. A modernist interpretation of the goddess stands in downtown Vancouver, a gift from Olympia’s mayor to commemorate the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg is capped with a gold gilded statue of Mercury, a deity in the Roman pantheon connected to commerce, magic, and the underworld. To the ancient Greeks he was understood as Hermes, but to Manitobans he is known as Golden Boy.
As North America is now a religious melting pot, images highlighting Eastern spirituality are becoming more prevalent.
A golden, 50-foot tall Hanuman murti – an embodiment of the popular Hindu deity – can be viewed at the Vishnu Mandir in the Greater Toronto Area. In the Chicago suburb of Glenview stands a 22-foot Lord Hanuman in the recently constructed Hanuman temple. Embassy Row in Washington DC boasts a gleaming white statue of the Hindu goddess, Saraswati. And inside the Chuang Yen Monastery near Carmel, New York, you can gaze upon a 37-foot statue of the Great Buddha Vairocana – the largest Buddhist statue in the Western Hemisphere. Of course, American examples of Eastern representations are small in size and number compared to Asian counterparts.
It seems to be an ironic concurrence: In the West, and particularly the United States, classic pagan pageantry has been used to symbolize democratic ideals in a land sprinkled with Christian crosses. During the nation’s first two hundred years its citizenry lived within a culturally accepted Christian ethos, yet at the same time, cultic imagery was used to display Enlightenment principles and the spiritual aesthetics of Romanticism. It is a testament to the lasting power of myth, and the sacred secularism that underscored Modernity.
What does this all mean? Nothing and something.
Nothing in that like many of the days of the week and months of the year, named after pagan divinities, we go about our busy lives without giving it any thought. That this historical milieu exists as part of our culture’s habit is not something to become unduly excited about. It is an unchangeable piece of our social fabric. It just is.
Something in that we have a glimpse of the past in the present: We can properly see these representations as reminders of the ancient worldview. These quiet heralds of stone and metal, often standing in our high places, whisper to us that the pagan past is not so far removed.
In the case of newer inclusions such as Hanuman or Ganesha or Shiva, these can be likened to memos announcing the contemporary shift in spiritual attitudes. In a way similar to the Renaissance when garden deity statues and private shrines acted as harbingers of major societal change, we can look upon these images as way-markers; physical symbols of our transforming culture and reminders of an active, supernatural setting.
Putting aside the Hindu and Buddhist depictions, I wonder what first century Christians would think if they could be transported to America for the intent of gazing upon the nation’s display of classical paganism. How would they respond?
Not with shock, but the familiar recognition of a pagan enchantment.
Game of Gods is available on Amazon.
 Alan Watts, In My Own Way: An Autobiography, 1915-1965 (Pantheon Books, 1972), p.323.
 Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World (Bantam, 1981), p.10.
 The Nashville Parthenon can be found at 2500 West End Ave, Nashville, TN.
 The figure in Athena’s hand in Nashville is Nike.
 Before being repositioned on his pedestal, Vulcan’s bare bottom was angled toward the Homewood district, earning the affectionate phrase, “moon over Homewood.”
 Other official seals with Greco-Roman goddess symbolism includes South Carolina, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.
 Egyptian themes include sphinxes and the all-seeing eye, associated with Ra and Horus.
 Obelisks are associated with solar worship. The structure also has phallic connotations.
 Historic Preservation Review Board, Application for Historic Landmark or History District Designation (Gov. of the District of Columbia/National Park Service, 2016), p.23.
 Manitoba’s Legislative Building is famed for its esoteric symbolism. Masonic and Rosicrucian themes are found throughout the structure. See The Hermetic Code: Unlocking One of Manitoba’s Greatest Secrets (Winnipeg Free Press, 2007).
 The Hanuman Mandir of Greater Chicago is located at 3623 W Lake Ave, Glenview, IL.
 Saraswati is located on the grounds of the Indonesian Embassy.
 See Joscelyn Godwin, The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance (WeiserBooks, 2002/2005). See also, Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe (Routledge, 1995), pp.200-203.