I was recently down the rabbit hole, doing some reading about the Graeco-Egyptian deity, Serapis. Serapis is a largely unknown/ overlooked deity of manufactured origins. Essentially, Ptolemy I of Egypt wanted a deity that would unify the Greeks and the Egyptians in worship, so he combined aspects of several Egyptian and Greek deities to create Serapis’ cultus. His name comes from combining the names of Osiris and Apis and he was said to possess the chthonic qualities of Hades and Demeter and the benevolence of Dionysus.
Reading about Serapis really made me stop and think. It made me think about the nature of divinity and how cults are created and how they evolve. A year ago, a ‘manufactured’ deity wouldn’t have sat well with me. I would have scoffed at the idea and decried it as an insincere cult, without giving the matter much thought. I mean, Ptolemy I basically fabricated Serapis out of bits and pieces of existing deities, right?
But, I didn’t have the reaction I thought I’d have. I found myself sort of “getting it”, as it were. The development of Serapis’ cult is essentially, at least in my mind, a great example of how older cults evolve to fit new surroundings. There was a melding of cultures and that change prompted the birth of a new cult based on the preexisting. A new name, but a collection of old aspects.
As a proponent of binaman, epithets and aspects, this reassembly of component pieces makes sense to me. You have the need and you have the divine vocabulary to draw from and you make use of it. You aren’t pulling out of thin air (as I’m sure some reading this might think I’m proposing that), but instead, redefining the lines as to where one deity’s role ends and another begins. These lines are murky and just as Gaulish Mercury may have been worshipped as a God in triplicate, so too could Serapis be the combined force of Osiris, Apis and Hades.
In any case, the story of Serapis’ conception is certainly an interesting one and provides food for thought.