Ancient Deities: An Encyclopedia

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9780786403172: Ancient Deities: An Encyclopedia

Throughout history, humans have pondered the question of their existence. In nearly every society, part of the answer has included some form of god or goddess who was involved in the creation of their universe or controlled some aspect of it. For the Mayans, one such deity was Ajtzak, who tried to create humans from wood; for the Yorubas of Africa, Shango was the storm god who controlled the thunder and lightning. The Chinese of the Shang dynasty era worshipped Shang Ti, their supreme god. Evil deities were also part of the answer, as in the case of the Kuvera, the Hindu chief of evil in the Vedic period, and Tu, the Persian or Islamic demon of fatal accidents. All of the known ancient gods, many heretofore obscure or known only from mythological literature, are included in this exhaustive reference work. The focus is on their origins, histories, and functions. The people who believed in each deity are identified, along with alternate names or spellings both old and modern. The descriptions that follow are of the functions, origins and physical nature of the deities. In many cases, entries include other deities, often in other societies or cultures, that are similar. Extensive cross references are provided for alternate spellings and names.

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About the Author:

Patricia Turner is a writer and researcher in Daly City, California. The late Charles Russell Coulter was a novelist and engineer.

From Booklist:

The religious traditions, mythologies, and folklore of the world's cultures all include deities, spirits, and sacred places. This new encyclopedia offers brief descriptions of more than 10,000 gods, spirits, and mythical figures. Entries are arranged alphabetically and include the religion, culture, or geographic region in which a particular deity figures. Variant spellings of names are given as well as other names by which a figure may be known. These variant spellings and alternate names/titles are cross-referenced throughout the text as well as in the index. Brief descriptions of the deity follow and often conclude with see references to other entries. The overwhelming majority of entries are for deities, but some sacred places are included (e.g., Islamic Paradise, Valhalla, but not Delphi). The index is quite complete, listing not only the variant spellings of the entries but also some places and subjects (e.g., Egypt, trees).

Because this work does include many figures from religion, mythology, and folklore the world over, the inclusion of several indexes would have made it more useful. The entries are listed alphabetically and not grouped, say, by geography, religious tradition, or type of deity. Therefore, a user interested in fertility gods but not knowing the name of any one in particular is forced to read through the entries to find one or several.

Although a supplemental bibliography is included for the entire source, the quality of individual entries would have been enhanced had they, too, included bibliographic references. Many deities are mentioned in primary texts or described more completely in secondary sources. For example, the entry for Eumolpus, the mythical king of Thrace, would be more informative and helpful if users were directed to the passages in Plutarch, Apollodorus, and others where stories about him are recounted. Such references would also serve as a mechanism for verifying information imparted in entries.

Two other sources treat much of the same material. The first is Guide to the Gods (ABC-CLIO, 1991). In this source, entries are alphabetically arranged in categories (e.g., "Atmospheric Deities") and include references to secondary sources. The second is the Facts On File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend (Facts On File, 1988). Entries are generally longer, so fewer are included, but separate indexes are provided for variant spelling and culture/ethnicity. Except that it has many more entries, Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities is not much of an improvement on either. However, some entries found in one resource do not appear in the other two, so the three can complement each other. Academic and large public libraries in need of resources on this topic should purchase this work, but do so knowing the information it contains can be brief and misleading at times.

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Charles Russell Coulter, Patricia Turner
Editore: McFarland & Company (2000)
ISBN 10: 0786403179 ISBN 13: 9780786403172
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Coulter, Charles Russell; Turner, Patricia
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Charles Russell Coulter, Patricia Turner
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