Divine tackies

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I feel like an idiot for not knowing that the Nike company and brand is named after a deity, Nike the Greek goddess of victory. Who knew. The given name “Nicholas“, meaning “victory-people” or “winner”, is also derived from the Greek word nike meaning victory.

Nike personifies victory and is often depicted with wings and bearing a laurel wreath to crown the victor and/or a palm branch which symbolizes victory. Nike is a war deity associated with the battlefield, as are the Norse Valkyries and the Morrigan of Celtic mythology among many others. She is also associated with peaceful competition and the sportsfield, and has been depicted on the front of every Olympic medal awarded since the 1928 Summer Olympics.

The Nike brand

The Nike brand was conceived in 1971 and is attributed to two individuals:

  • Jeff Johnson, a runner and the first full-time employee of the company then named Blue Ribbon Sports, suggested the name after dreaming about the goddess Nike.
  • Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University, was paid $35 for creating the “swoosh” logo which represents the wing of the goddess Nike for the side of a running shoe.

The source cited for the following information found on various websites is a Nike Consumer Affairs packet, 1996.

“NIKE, pronounced NI-KEY, is the winged goddess of victory according to Greek mythology. She sat at the side of Zeus, the ruler of the Olympic pantheon, in Olympus. A mystical presence, symbolizing victorious encounters, NIKE presided over history’s earliest battlefields. A Greek would say, ‘When we go to battle and win, we say it is NIKE.’ Synonymous with honored conquest, NIKE is the twentieth century footwear that lifts the world’s greatest athletes to new levels of mastery and achievement. The NIKE ‘swoosh’ embodies the spirit of the winged goddess who inspired the most courageous and chivalrous warriors at the dawn of civilization.”

“The SWOOSH logo is a graphic design created by Caroline Davidson in 1971. It represents the wing of the Greek Goddess NIKE. Caroline Davidson was a student at Portland State University in advertising. She met Phil Knight while he was teaching accounting classes and she started doing some freelance work for his company. Phil Knight asked Caroline to design a logo that could be placed on the side of a shoe. She handed him the SWOOSH, he handed her $35.00. In spring of 1972, the first shoe with the NIKE SWOOSH was introduced…..the rest is history!”

(Additional sources: NIKE, Inc. – History & Heritage and Nike: From Greek Myth to Sports and Fitness Powerhouse by Korky Vann)

Polytheism and Paganism

Deities such as Nike personify among other things concepts such as fertility, agriculture, beauty, love, marriage, the arts, war, justice, healing and compassion. While polytheism is generally defined as the belief in multiple deities, there are so-called “hard” and “soft” degrees of polytheism. I view deities as individual archetypes that are ultimately different aspects of a single universal source of life rather than distinct Divine beings, which places me in the “soft” polytheist camp.

Some people believe that Paganism is virtually the same thing as polytheism, but not all Pagans are polytheists and not all polytheists consider themselves to be Pagan, as explained by Drew Jacob in his blog post “Why I’m Not Pagan“. Based on my observations, a non-Pagan polytheist is likely to be a polytheist working exclusively with one specific pantheon of deities (e.g. Celtic, Norse, Roman, Greek) and to be a reconstructionist who values historical accuracy.

The gods are sacred. Or not.

Some single-pantheon polytheists object to the so-called appropriation of sacred deities in their pantheon by Wiccans and Eclectic Pagans. I have sympathy for both sides. Many Pagans do not have a natural pantheon to call their own due to the historical suppression of non-Christian religions in the Western world and the dilution of our cultural heritage, especially in the former colonies where different cultures are now lost in the melting pot and many people either do not know what their family heritage is, or have some idea and it is complicated! Several people have suggested rather incorporating local indigenous belief systems, but in South Africa these beliefs have historically virtually been suppressed into oblivion and furthermore some indigenous South Africans are likely to object to such “cultural appropriation” in the same way that some American Indians do.

Some people also find the commercial trademarking of deities distasteful. This makes sense to me from the commercialization aspect of it and also from the reputational association aspect of it. Corporates and the individuals in the public eye that they sponsor are not necessarily the greatest role models all the time.

I never really thought about it before. Initially, the only local brand names with an obvious mythological connection that I could think of offhand were newspapers. The Mercury is named after the Roman god of commerce and winged messenger of the gods and Cape Argus is named after the all-seeing giant in Greek mythology, Argus Panoptes. I subsequently came up with Ceres Fruit Juices, named after the Western Cape town of Ceres, which in turn is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture. There are plenty of international brands like Nike with a mythological connection however. (This is a fun learning exercise, and from a Google search seems to be a common homework assignment that I clearly missed out on.)

I wondered if anyone had ever tried trademarking the name of a deity as well known as Jesus and a quick Google search showed that they had, some succeeded and others did not. According to the World Wide Web, “Jesus” and “JESUS CHRIST” are registered trademarks.

Some people say with dismay that sport, especially football in some countries, has become a religion. On the other hand, many people sacrifice themselves and their values at the corporate altar. I don’t understand the rationale for compartmentalizing our lives and trying to separate religion from everything else (and I am not suggesting interfering with other people’s beliefs and religion in any way). Nature and the old gods and goddesses provide role models for all sorts of circumstances.

“Single is the race, single

Of men and of gods;

From a single mother we both draw breath.

But a difference of power in everything

Keeps us apart;

For one is as nothing, but the brazen sky

Stays a fixt habitation for ever.

Yet we can in greatness of mind

Or of body be like the Immortals,

Though we know not to what goal

By day or in the nights

Fate has written that we shall run.”

Pindar (c 5th century BC), as translated by Cecile Maurice Bowra (1898-1971)

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This article was first published here http://mywingsofdesireblog.blogspot.com/2011/12/divine-tackies.html

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  1. Jan 21, 2012

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