Saint Odhran

Saint Columba, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, once wished to construct a chapel on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland.  However, whatever was built each day, was destroyed each night.  It seemed that the task was impossible.

Eventually, a voice spoke to Saint Columba, and told him that the chapel could only be constructed were someone buried alive in the foundation.  Columba’s son, Odhran, volunteered himself, was thusly buried, and the chapel was duly completed.

One day, however, Odhran pushed his head through the floor, and said that there was no heaven or hell, as people speak of them.  Alarmed, Saint Columba had Odhran’s body removed from the foundation, and properly buried in consecrated ground, lest Odhran reveal more secrets of the afterlife.  After this burial, Odhran never bothered the people of Iona again.

The Gods Themselves Will Know It

In the ancient world, there were a number of religious mysteries, entrance to which required special and oftentimes mystical tasks.  When Androcleidas was being initiated into the mysteries at Samothrace, he was asked by the priest what the greatest sin he had ever committed was.  Androcleidas asked whether the priest wanted to know or the gods.  When the priest indicated that the question was asked on the gods’ behalf, Androcleidas replied, “If any such deed has been committed by me, the gods themselves will know it.”

Let Them Drink

Publius Claudius Pulcher, during the Fist Punic War, decided to launch a surprise attack against the Carthaginian navy at Drepana.  Before the battle, it was customary to offer grain to sacred chickens, and if they ate the grain, it was a sign that the gods approved of the battle.  The chickens refused to eat, and Pulcher, enraged, threw them into the sea, saying, “If they will not eat, let them drink!”

He engaged the Carthaginians anyway, and suffered a terrible defeat, losing almost the entirety of the Roman navy, and so demoralizing the Romans that it would be seven years before they again took to the seas.

The Cherokee Abandon Their Gods

The Cherokee Nation has a reputation for having adopted the ways of the Europeans, perhaps more than any other American Indian nation.  Perhaps the reason for that is this.  The Cherokee Nation was ravaged by a terrible smallpox epidemic.  The damage was so great, that the Cherokee lost faith in their gods, and their priests destroyed the sacred objects of the tribe.

Yermak’s Prayers

In the late 1500s, the Stroganovs, a wealthy and powerful Russian family, began sponsoring forays into Siberia, hoping to profit from the mineral and natural wealth of the land.  One of these expeditions was led by the Cossack Vasily “Yermak” Timofeyovich, whose cognomen came from the word for millstone.  Yermak and his band received material support from the Stroganovs, who insisted that the assistance was not a gift, but a loan, and wished to specify the terms of its repayment.

The Stroganovs at first wished for the loan to be secured by indentures, but Yermak and the other Cossacks rejected this.  Instead, they promised to repay the Stroganovs through the spoils of war, if they were successful in their attack.  If they failed and died, however, Yermark sarcastically promised to instead repay the loan by praying on the Stroganovs’ behalf once the Cossacks reached heaven.