The sun is levitating directly above the two travellers walking across the sand dunes of Arabia. Upon reaching the summit of one particularly high pile, one of the travellers, a jolly bespectacled middle-aged man, came to a halt. The other traveller, a curious brunette girl of 12 years old, followed suit. Both gaze at the stretch of land expanding ahead of them; various kinds of stone-like paraphernalia seem to be arranged on the plain, each at an equal distance from its neighbours, and the whole of them stretched as far as the eyes can see.
“What is this Papa?” the girl asks her Dad with a tone of childlike innocence.
“Mhm.. this was what I was looking for.” Papa smiles, “…the Grave of the Gods.”
As if she didn’t register what her Papa replied, the girl prods further, “What is that stone Papa?” pointing to a stone that was shaped like a man banging drums, painted in striking colours.
Papa analyses the stone for a moment, then replies “That’s Huitzilopochtli my dear (pronounced Weetz-ee-loh-POSHT-lee). He was one of the Aztec gods. Every year, during his reign, 50,000 youths and maidens were sacrificed to him… Truly a horrible thing.”.
The girl is silent, thinking. Then she retorts “Am I gonna be sacrificed to him Pa?”, with eyes honest and quivering just a little.
“Oh.. no dear, no! Huitzilopochtli existed only in the minds of the Aztecs. And the Aztecs no longer exist, so no, dear. You won’t be sacrificed. Huitzilopochtli is dead.” Papa replies with reassurance.
His daughter, again as if she didn’t take in at all what he said(as is the case with children of that age) adds another question, “Papa… why are people sacrificed for God?”
An eagle flies across the graves. The clouds block some of the light and the heat. Suddenly, everything seemed to tone down by a few degrees.
Papa takes a deep breath. “Because.. they do it because.. they were afraid, honey. Their priests told them God required human sacrifice — in Huitzilopochtli’s case, it was to quench his thirst.” He looks at his daughter, who was looking at him attentively, “It’s not like they can disobey their God’s orders, honey. If they did, it was very likely they got killed for it.” he goes on to say.
“That’s evil.” the girl replies, reaching and grabbing on to her Papa’s hand.
“Indeed it was”, Papa replies. “Do you see that one over there, the stone shaped like a long head?” Papa continues, “that’s the grave of the Egyptian god Osiris. Millions of people followed what he wanted them to do. He promised them that he would give them a second life if they did… And the one to the right of Osiris, that stone shaped like a face with one eye, that’s Wotan, the German god. And do you see that one over there, that stove-shaped tomb? Under that lies Zaojun, the Chinese God that watches people from the sky. He made his believers very conscious of the things they did…”
“How about that one?” the high-pitched voice asks, referring to a golden chair tombstone resting in the middle of the ranks.
“That’s.. that’s Jupiter I think. The Almighty God of the Romans. Jupiter the Protector of the Romans. The Romans believed he protected them. And he did.. sometimes… but so did Zeus protect the Greeks; Zeus, by the way, is the one lying below the thunder-shaped tomb.” Papa finishes. Then, with his daughter in hand, he walks towards the directory that is perched in front of the graves. There the names of each inhabitant of the graves is listed down according to arrangement.
Papa, muttering, reads out their names; “Alator the Nourisher, Sutekh the God of the Nile Valley, Sebek the Crocodile God, Ptah, Anubis, Anath, Baal, Astarte, Hadad, Addu, Nebo…” Papa continues to read in silence; “..Yao, Ahijah, Dagon..” and so on until God number 997.
Below the list there is engraved a paragraph that reads:
“All mighty gods in their day, gods of the highest imminence, worshiped and feared by millions, full of demands and impositions, able to bind and loose — all gods of the first class. Men labored for generations to build vast temples to them — temples with stones as large as hay-wagons. The business of interpreting their whims occupied thousands of priests, wizards, archdeacons, evangelists, haruspices, bishops, archbishops. To doubt them was to die, usually at the stake. Armies took to the field to defend them against infidels: villages were burned, women and children were butchered, cattle were driven. Yet in the end they all withered and died, and today there is none so poor to do them reverence.”
Upon finishing his reading, Papa sees his daughter standing some distance apart from him, taking in all the tombstones ahead of her. He goes to his daughter and rests his hand on her head.
“Why are there so many Gods Papa?” Curiosity is her best feature.
Eyes scanning the rows in front, Papa answers, “People are scared dear.. of this life.. and of death. They had no choice but to have Gods or God…..they didn’t know why earthquakes happened, and thunders, and floods. They didn’t have science back then honey.”
The clouds scatter away from the sun, increasing the desert heat and brightness. The two travellers increase in sweat.
“What about these ones? Who are these graves for, Papa?” the girls asks, indicating the three empty holes at the front row. All dug up, waiting to be filled.
Papa takes a long hard look at the holes. Then he turns his gaze elsewhere, resting in thought. After a while, his daughter attentively awaiting, Papa lets out a grin.
“I can only guess, dear. But I think that’s for the 3 gods that came after the Babylonian Exile, the one that are related to each other.”