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In this lesson we explore the topic of sky fathers, which is a cross-religion term encompassing heavenly deities who are often the most powerful in their respective religion.

Modern Families

The modern family is a diverse organism. As short as fifty years ago, many families were made up of one father, one mother, and children.

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Families today are formed with a diverse and ever-changing amount of people: there are single-parent homes, combined families with multiple children and step-children, even houses with two parents of the same sex. Regardless of the makeup, there is still usually someone considered a father-figure – someone who assumes the stronger, perhaps more disciplinary, of the two traditional roles.Like families, polytheistic religions of the past also had father figures: a strong, commanding presence often tasked with controlling the biggest factors on human lives and keeping the other gods in check. Across religions, these heavenly figures have come to be known as sky fathers.

What is a Sky Father?

A sky father is the most powerful male deity in a religion, often at the head of a polytheistic pantheon. In addition – and as the title suggests – the deity also often resides for the majority of his existence in the sky, usually with powers over the weather as well as the other gods.Sky fathers are often compared with their opposite earthly deity, the Earth Mother. Gaia of the Greek religion, who embodied the earth and all of the parts of nature not reserved for control by other gods, is one example.

Whereas earth mothers are often female and earthbound, sky fathers are more powerful, often male, and without limits on their movement through the various worlds of each religion.

Examples of Sky Fathers

To better understand sky fathers and their typical characteristics in polytheistic religions, let’s examine a few sky fathers from separate religions and mythologies.

Zeus, ancient Greece

Zeus is perhaps the most recognizable sky father character in western popular culture. Considered the king of the gods in ancient Greek mythology, Zeus lived in the sky high atop Mt. Olympus, where he controlled the weather, often casting thunderbolts down upon those who displeased him.

Horus, ancient Egypt

Horus was the god in control of the sky in ancient Egypt. He was worshiped by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt as the most powerful god, and reverence for him grew over time in ancient Egyptian history. He is depicted as a human but with the head of a falcon.

Ranginui, Maori (Polynesia)

In Maori mythology, the sky father Ranginui is married to the earth mother and the two are the parents of all of the others gods and goddesses. In the Maori creation myth, the children of Ranginui attempted numerous times to push their father away, who held their mother in a tight embrace, in order to create light between the sky and earth. This act eventually created the earth.

Sky Fathers

Culture of Origin Description
Greece Zeus, lives atop Mt. Olympus; controls weather and throws thunderbolts
Egypt Horus, human with head of a falcon; controls the sky
Polynesia Ranginui of the Maori people; offspring tried to push their father away as he held tightly to their mother creating light between earth and sky

Learning Outcomes

The goal after this lesson is to:

  • Describe the use of sky fathers in various cultures in their religion
  • Explain some of the well-known sky fathers
  • Recognize the use of an earth mother figure as an opposite

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