The Greek way of apprehending the mystery was to
personify it. The ancients sensed powerful primordial
forces in the world. To make them approachable, they gave
them human faces. They called them Zeus, Apollo,
Aphrodite. American Indians felt the same mystery but
rendered it in animistic forms—Bear Teacher, Hawk
Messenger, Coyote Trickster.
Our ancestors were keenly cognizant of forces and
energies whose seat was not in this material sphere but
in a loftier, more mysterious one. What did they believe
about this higher reality?
First, they believed that death did not exist there. The
gods are immortal.
The gods, though not unlike humans, are infinitely more
powerful. To defy their will is futile. To act toward heaven
with pride is to call down calamity.
Time and space display an altered existence in this higher
dimension. The gods travel "swift as thought." They can tell
the future, some of them, and though the playwright
Agathon tells us,
This alone is denied to God:
the power to undo the past
yet the immortals can play tricks with time, as we ourselves
may sometimes, in dreams or visions.
114 THE WAR OF ART