I came across a website the other day that challenged readers to write a series of 26 essays, within a selected theme, each essay to be identified with a different letter of the alphabet. Mentally flipping through my blog’s archives I found I could handle the assignment only if I used X for Xmas – or, X for Xnty, which is my private shorthand for Christianity.
Q & Z were easy: they could stand for Queensland and Zorba, respectively. Zorba the Greek was a movie that was showing at a cinema in Thessaloniki, Greece, one night in 1964; a gang of us from the Youth Hostel went and watched it – dubbed in Greek, with English sub-titles. I was reminded of the event by a Canadian chap we came across in what is now Vanuatu eight years later; I blogged about that meeting in January 2012, and it’s in the Archives under the name of the movie.
It’s nice to have a legitimate “Z for …” in my bag. My cousin Arthur was Secretary to the Bishop of Zambia in the 1950s, but I’ve never written about that; and nothing memorable has ever happened to me at a zoo. So it was Zorba or nothing. It’s much the same with Queensland. I’ve hitched to and through Queenstown in New Zealand and Qum in Iran, and I once took in a day’s polo at Windsor Great Park in the company of a Duke named Quentin. But Qs are slim pickings in any context.
This month I’m reading “The Atheists’ Guide to Christmas” – which to my surprise uses the C-word and not the X-abbreviation. That’s weird. I myself always write Xmas, unless to a known or suspected Christian whom I don’t want to offend. (My shorthand for “Christian” is Xn, naturally enough. Among some of my US acquaintances, Xian is a code word for Zionist, which is interesting; maybe they use it to throw the censors off the scent.)
X was and is the letter of the Greek alphabet whose sound was and is similar to our English hard-C. When Christianity began as a religion, Greek commentators translated the Semitic title “Messiah” [“the anointed”] as Christos – in Greek lettering which was later transliterated into Christ. Christos meant “anointed” (smeared with ointment) in a general religious context, and was conveniently close in sound to Horus, the Egyptian sky-god widely respected (and sometimes worshipped) in the Greek culture of the time. And who was born of a virgin, and whose holy day was 25th December. What a coincidence!
Happily, too, Jesus/Iesus was conveniently close in sound to Isis, that same virgin mother. Thus: Jesus Christ = Iesus Horus, as though the “Christ” part was a surname and not a title. There is another Greek word (probably related), that transliterates as kharis, meaning “grace”, which is used in their “thanks” – efkharisto, from which we got our English Eucharist.
Christianity is a largely synthetic religion, absorbing rituals, traditions, legends and names from just about every belief-system it encountered. It pinched the whole of the Old Testament from Judaism – and, more recently, the Christmas Tree and Santa Claus from the Germans.
Our English name for God is Germanic – Gott from the Goths and Scots, both of which peoples took their names from the same ancient tribal god. In contrast, southern European tribes mostly stuck with the name of Zeus in its several forms, inherited from the even more ancient tribal god of Sumer in southern Iraq. I blogged about The Names of God in March 2012.
For centuries the name “damn” was considered a blasphemy, after Christianity had commandeered the general sound of it for its own god. (“Damn/domine” in Latin meant “master” or “lord”; its origin – as far as can be speculated – was the ancestor of the Aramaic god Tammuz, whose name endures in England’s River Thames. And in the word democracy – as explained in a blog-post of November 2011.
Gods’ names are the very devil to shake off.